Sunday, October 14, 2018

Italy 2018 - Part 2 - La Famiglia

This is Part 2 and you might want to skim part 1 first.

When we tell people we are going to Italy - yes, again - they almost always ask if we have family there, and we do though that's not always been the case. In fact, we've only known the Chancellor's Italiano famiglia a few short years but we've grown very close in that short amount of time.

The Chancellor's maternal grandfather and grandmother passed before even her oldest sister was born and therefore she and her siblings never knew them. Their mother knew she had aunts, uncles and cousins "in America" and would occasionally search for the family name on trips and such but she never found them. The grandparents you see, were the last connection to family in Italy and when he and the grandmother passed , any knowledge of them faded as the years passed.

Then in 2013 the Chancellor received a random email from a woman from Toronto. Did her mother have a maiden name of X, did you have an Aunt named Y, etc etc. All very specific and dead-on questions.

Then, overnight the Chancellor went from having a smaller number of cousins compared to my family to exceeding my impressive cousin-count. The were a ton in Canada (technically, that is also "America" but it had never occurred to her mother to look there) and some never left Italy. We've grown amazingly close to all in a very short period.

IMG_1535The Chancellor, both sons and I visited the Italian side for the first time in 2014 and later Oldest son went back to visit on his honeymoon.

And now we we're back and now bring the Chancellor's sister and her husband for late night charades and massive amounts of food.

For this leg of the trip we were going to spend 4 days in Campli and that is pretty much all we knew. We loved spending time with the Family and they had said to come back in Agosto because that is the traditional Italian vacation time and now here we were.

The first thing you need know is that they are unbelievably gracious and hospitable. Part of it is being Italian. As I'm sure I've said before, if you stop and ask for directions in Italy, you could end up at someone's house for dinner. Of course being related only increases this hospitality.

They live in the Commune of Teramo in Abruzzo  where English is clearly not as common as say Rome or Florence where the tourists are. When we last visited, it seemed they didn't know "yes" and "no" and we largely depended on Oldest son and the one cugini that spoke English to translate.

Honestly I was concerned that we would be sitting around the dinning room table smiling at each other but between the Chancellor's Italian lessons, the cugini  that picked up some English and Google we got through it all.

That is one tool that has gotten better and better on every trip to Italy - the Smart Phone. This year most of us were able to extend our home data plans to Italy for a flat daily fee. We found this immeasurably helpful everywhere we went from the hilltops of Abruzzo to the streets of Roma. In fact the attitude has switch from "make sure data roaming is turned off" to the opposite in a few short years.

When attempting to communicate, eventually every conversation would break down to using Google Translate which could lead to its own comedy. Once the Chancellor's sorella read something like "abbiamo avuto un sacco di pistola" from Capt'n Ricks phone. I recall thinking "pistola? isn't that gun? are they talking 2nd amendment or something?" and I looked around at the Italians who were equally puzzled. Pistola is exactly what it sounds like - a pistol.

The Sorella had an important typo in the English she fed Google Translate: "fun" had became "gun".

IMG_3639We never really made long term plans with the cousins. It just sort of worked out that they would tell us the next upcoming event. You come to my house for lunch, I take you to breakfast, tomorrow you come to my house for lunch. And so it would go round and round. 

And they had a sixth sense about finding us, almost better than "find friends" on the iPhone.

After a trip the beach in Alba Adriatica, we were headed back into town when a strange car starting beeping its horn at us. We thought they just wanted to pass the slow Americans on the curvy mountain road but it was the cousin and her husband. We pulled over and they said "tonight we take you for Baccalà"

We had to laugh because nearly the same thing had happened to us in 2014. The cousin's husband insisted on showing us the way in his car since he was convinced we would get lost driving back the place we had stayed for 4 days. At one point we were following him and the next thing we knew - we weren't. We thought that was it but he somehow found us and we had our last goodbyes on the side of the road.
He found us, again.

IMG_1826(1)Every Italian town and village loves it's festivals and Campli is no exception. They have an annual Porchetta festival that draws in the Italian vacationers from the Adriatic coastal towns for a night of fun in the village.

This year was the 47th annual event - (and using my favorite Italiano expression) più o meno - more or less. 

Somehow the first annual Sagra Della Porchetta was in 1964 or 54 years ago.  I guess they took a few years off? Anyway, this is labelled as the largest in Italy and I believe them. They have three musical acts going at the same time, dancing, beer and of course pork.

The Family had set aside a large table outside a local restaurant for all of us to have dinner and it was a wonderful time.

Next August check out the web cam.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Italy 2018 - Part 1 - Introduction and Arrival

The passports are once again secured in their lock box, my Tuscan suntan is fading and we are all back at work so I guess our seemingly never-ending tour across Italy is now over.

All we have now are several thousand pictures, a bag full of receipts and the memories. Oh and bills. The bills are still rolling in.

We traveled with the Chancellors Sister and her husband Cap't Rick, otherwise known as the "core" group. You may recall that Cap't Rick and the Chancellor's sister own the S/V Kukaro in the Chesapeake Bay.

The trip was to broken into four legs and we'd be meeting up with my brother and wife for the last leg. We would travel by car and yes, I checked my license expiration.

We'd be hitting:
  • Four days in Campli in Teramo, Abruzzo where the Chancellor and her sister have Famiglia. 
  • Back to Rome for four days so the Sister and Cap't Rick can do the Cesar shuffle through the typical Roman sites and that I just like Rome. Or more properly, past tense: I did like it. 
  • Off to Sirmione on Lake Garda for five days. 
  • And finally five days in the medieval walled city of Lucca in Tuscany.

The "core" group of us traveled from Philly on a direct flight to Rome. 

The flight was amazingly empty and somehow we had a completely  wing to wing empty row in front of us, with the exception of one very quiet older lady who seemed to be asleep the minute she sat down. Ahh, this is going to be great. stretch out a bit, nice and quiet .... 

And then they came at the last minute. 

I used to wonder why Americano's get a bad rap in Europe - until I saw this crew. They saw the nearly empty row except for the older lady and seized it like the vandals taking Rome. Gone was the old lady and in her place were two complete families of four straight out of a Chevy Chase vacation movie. The two wives sat together in a pair of seats by the window, the husbands took a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT row and the kids, well, once the wine started flowing with the two wives it was "what kids". 

I watched in horror as the quiet older lady moved 6 rows ahead. 

Once we were airborne and it was meal time, I watch as the wives asked for giant goblets of Chardonnay and start with that thing that only women can do where the both speak at once and they completely understand each other with out missing a beat. 

The stewardess asked if I wanted anything to drink and seeing the cackling-hens out of the corner of my eye, was peer pressured into a Chardonnay. The stewardess gave me a sympathy pour of a completely full plastic glass and I recall thinking - that's a lot of wine - I should sleep good.

Then, while eating and nearly finished, I picked up the wine and the next thing I knew it was in my lap.  I'm not sure if you've recently flown and had the experience of being locked into your seat like Hannibal Lecter strapped to a hand truck but there is no where to go after a spill. 

Wine filled my tray, over ran it and ended up on my pants giving me Vino Pantaloni.

Luckily I had the aisle, so I was able to get up with the dripping tray, starting towards the stewardesses who are still doing meal service. 

I stood there like a 5 year old that had just spilled my milk with a tray dripping with cheap Chardonnay and my Vino Pantaloni. 

She told me - with zero uncertainty - to return to my seat like the petulant child I was.

"But what about this?" I cried, holding out the tray. 

"Just leave it in an empty seat" and they handed me a stack of napkins. 

This was not their first Vino Pantaloni rodeo. 

Eventually the aisle cleared and I was able to get the rest room where I dried the Vino Pantaloni as best I could, stuffed some paper towel between me and the Vino and sulked back to my seat.

Only 7 hours to go!

We landed and after luggage and customs, you are disoriented and the first thing you have to do is obtain your rental car.  You are sleep deprived, it's a foreign country and the cute Signorina behind the counter sort of speaks English. 

What could go wrong? 

Some history is important here as there had been some recent drama with the car rentals before leaving. Back in the USA, the Chancellor's sister asked how much luggage room was in the rental and a few google searches and youtube videos later, we realized that the car we had chosen for 4 adults and their luggage was an either or situation. It was either 4 adults OR the luggage but not both. Realizing this and thinking we were really, really smart we changed our rental to something called a Jeep Compass.

I spent the week ahead of our trip looking for the mythological Jeep Compass in parking lots and passing car dealerships in the US but could never find one. 

This is because like Big Foot and Unicorns, the Jeep Compass DOES NOT EXIST. 

And now we are finding that out in Englitiano from Jessica, our rental car counter Signorina. 

Luckily though, Jessica does have a brand new Puegot 3008 with Automatic Transmission, GPS and very low mileage all for the low. low price of approximately 5 times what I was going to pay for the mythical Jeep Compass. It's Senora Automatica all over again. Oh and it's the only car with 20 Cubic Feet of cargo space and four seats which is theoretically enough space to hold 4 people and luggage. 


After two quick rounds of sleep deprived airport parking lot luggage jenga with Italians honking at us, we are off to Abruzzo. 

Being co-pilot, Cap't Rick has pre-placed all of our "way points" into his aging GPS for which he has purchased and installed maps of Italy. After some digging we find the said GPS, plug it in and let it find its bearings. The only problem? the old device is completely invisible in any sort of daylight. It's like a vampire GPS and only comes out at night. No problem, three of the four of us (another long story) have data plans and iPhones and so I plug in the assumed addressed of our destination into Google Maps, Cap't Rick fires up Waze and we are off.

The Chancellor and I have done this drive a few times in both directions and I have general direction of were I am going: Around the bottom of the Autostrata loop around Rome, the E90 to A24, across Italy and then we follow signs to Campli but still somehow we now need everything short of a compass and sextant to find our way.

The invisible GPS is mercifully silent but the two iPhones are barking out directions over the car speakers for mine and Cap't Rick's iPhone.  After the lack of sleep, the Vino Pantaloni, the cackling-hens and the car rental episode with Signorina Jessica, the different audible directions are all a bit much for me.

First freak-out of the trip belongs to me - mute that f'ing Waze which is mangling Italian names though tinny speakers - we do not need two GPS.

Waze is muted but still running.

The rest of the trip goes smoothly if not sleep-deprived, at least in the front seat. Both GPS  devices amazingly converge on the ancestral town of the Chancellor's famiglia from the East and in the back seat the Chancellor is attempting to contact the cousin's wife with everything short of smoke-signals.


Some further background - we didn't actually rent the house in Campli - the famiglia did and while we've mapped out out the rest of the trip with military precision, this leg is a complete mystery to us. Where are we staying? What are we doing? All complete unknowns except we know one thing: this is the week of the local Porchetta festival and there is pork in our future.

The Chancellor been texting and Facebooking them but it's not really clear where we are to meet them between the Cugini's English and our Italian. We are simply headed to town.  Then, all of a sudden we come around a familiar curve and the Chancellor and I realize we are at Zia's house and we know the way!

It's an Italiano miracle.

We meet the cugini at Zia's house and the language fun begins immediately. The Chancellor has been studying Italiano for a year in anticipation of of NOT having Oldest Son with us who speaks like a native and is typically our translator. Likewise Zia's daughter-in-law has been studying English.

This is their big test.

It goes well until they involve me. The daughter in law approaches me and questions "stanco?". I'm thinking she can't possibly be asking me if I'm stinky after our long flight and Vino Panaloni.  "stanco?" again. "Stanco?"

I just stare back, not knowing what to say. I feel like I don't know the secret password and I'll be found out.

The Chancellor comes to the rescue and says "tired?" as in "are you tired?" Aha! A break through.

I proudly say "Si!" and that is pretty much the end of our conversation as we've clearly exhausted my Italiano vocabulary and this is pretty much how it would go for the next four days for conversation:

  1. Attempts in Italiano.
  2. The Familglia attempts English
  3. Charades and hand gestures. 
  4. Resort to Google Translate and tax your data plan. 

We are invited to Zia's for dinner that night and are taken to the appartamento. 

Up next: Trump Tower, Berarado must be tracking us and too much food. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Off to Italy

Well, today is the day that has been circled on the calendar for along time: oggi andiamo in Italia (today we travel to Italy).

The Chancellor and I  are traveling with her sister and her husband, who recently retired. It's a long trip: Eighteen days. Even longer away from work: 23 days

We headed to Campli in Teramo which is in the Abruzzo region to visit with family at the annual Pork Festival, then to Rome for Sister and husband to do the Roman Shuffle (Vaticano, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain etc), off to Lake Garda and Sirmione, then we meet my brother for a week in Lucca, Tuscany and finally a night in Roma before heading home. 

It seems like a long trip but really it's only two more days then the last trip in 2014.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

I want my two Dollars.

Yesterday was shopping day and years ago The Chancellor and I decided that we should align our responsibilities to our talents. She was very good with money and therefore doing bills seemed in her wheel house and me? I got food shopping since, well, I like to snack.

Yesterday was a little unusual since The Chancellor went food shopping with me. Usually this means it will take 35% longer, cost 30% more, I will go home with some decorative do-dad and there will be dancing in the aisles.

But today it only meant we were going for Sushi at Wegmans and then I would food shop alone and she would explore the 350 other stores in the giant Suburban Shopping Center megaplex.

This particular Saturday was a special sampling day and Wegmans had little stands set up to sample goods, kind of like Costco does.

Booth #1? Sushi. Well how appropriate.

The lady in the booth was offering "Wegmans Buffalo Shrimp Sushi Roll" for $7.99 and she said there was a $2 off coupon. She said the coupon was "in the app". Of course it is - you can't just had me a paper coupon like it's 1975 or something. We sampled her Sushi Roll, which was good,  and moved along to check out the Sushi counter.

While checking the rest of the Sushi, I decided to check the Wegmans app and turns out that I hadn't used the app in long, long time and that my iPhone had to download the app - again. So off it went downloading.

I found what I thought was the coupon - for $2 off the general hot and cold bar food, got the Buffalo Shrimp Sushi Rolls, the Chancellors Spicy Wild Tuna Volcano Roll and headed for checkout.

Of course you know where this is going - there was no $2 off coupon for Wegmans Buffalo Shrimp Sushi Roll in my app.

Now I have a choice - I can be "that guy" who holds up the whole line for $2 and makes a scene or I can quietly go away. Part of me wants to stand up for what's right and part of me just wants the whole thing to end.

I ask the checkout girl why I didn't get my $2 off explaining the booth, which she can see over my shoulder, and the nice lady offering samples who said there was a coupon.

Checkout girls says "let me see your phone" implying that I am an old feeble person who doesn't understand today's modern iPhone technology and scrolls through the list of coupons available like Louis the XVII looking for someone new to behead.

"No, that's the wrong coupon, it's $18.10" she says.

Dismissed, just like that. Well that just pissed me off.

I looked at the ever-increasing line and swear the nice people behind me had torches and pitch-forks.

I explained again, that nice lady over here (pointing) said there was a $2 off coupon.

She said there wasn't and we were at a stand off.

Now it's a matter of principle and about teaching a large regional American supermarket chain with 95 stores in Mid-Atlantic and New England regions a lesson.

And getting my two dollars.

I pay for the meal and head directly to Customer Service with my ever-increasing-warmer Wegmans Buffalo Shrimp Sushi Roll.

At the counter I explain that there is a nice lady at booth with Wegmans Buffalo Shrimp Sushi Roll samples and she says there is a $2 off coupon and well I went to the checkout and Louis XVII behind the checkout counter couldn't find the coupon either despite her best scrolling efforts and so I don't think there is a coupon.

She scrolls through her own phone and finds the coupon.

"Let me see your phone"

What again? Does everyone just assume I'm technically incompetent?

Scroll, scroll, scroll - no coupon.

Then she goes to some computer terminal off to the right and tells me she sees it there and there a coupon this week for free dish washing liquid.

I do not want free dishwashing liquid.

I want satisfaction. I want my two dollars.

I explain that I do not have the coupon in the app and that the nice lady at the booth said there was coupon and bought the Wegmans Buffalo Shrimp Sushi Roll based on the fact that there was a coupon and then Louis the XVII couldn't find the coupon either

At this point, Customer Service lady literally opened the register and gave me two crisp One Dollar bills.

I told her I'd like to see a manager.

I recall in High School that there was a nice old teacher that they had put out to pasture as a "Guidance Counselor" and the Guidance Counselor would tell you want kind of jobs there were and what your aptitude for these jobs would be.

Never once did I hear of a job called Professional Corporate Apologizer and here I was face to face with John, the professional apologizer.  John said was he sorry and the he understood its frustrating that nice lady was telling people there was $2 off coupon the app when clearly there wasn't and that he would take care of it. John tried to give me another $2 but I told him that I had gotten my two dollars, thank you.

Semi-satisfied we went off to eat but not before stopping by the Sushi sample booth were I explained that you told me there was a coupon and well Louis the XVII over there couldn't find it and Customer service couldn't find it either.

"Let me see your phone"

Are you kidding me? I'm getting my free dish washing liquid and going home.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Key, Quay what ever.

I have a few "travel anomalies":

  • I've spent more time in Rome than New York City even though I am 90 miles from NYC. 
  • I spent a year in Japan but have never been to New Orleans or Hawaii. 
  • I've seen Pusan South Korea but never set foot in St Louis.
  • I had never been to the UK but I saw "Empire Strikes Back" in Mombasa Kenya.
And now I can say I've been to UK. On Bidness. 

It was to be Saturday overnight flight from Philly and I was travelling with my long time work freind John. We arrived early to airport and John went to see if we could improve our Corporate Economy middle seats to aisle or better. Apparently there had been a "equipment change" to an A330-200. 

Do you know the difference between a A330-200 and a A330-300? Neither did I. Surpise! It's 46 fewer seats. 

Snarky Airline counter lady asked us: Do you want to remain in the plane or is the wing OK? 

We loved our middle seats, thanks. 

So the poor gate people had a problem: how to get 46 people off this plane and onto later (the next day) flights.  Now last year this process would have been to drag people off the plane by their ankles, banging their heads on every seat by boot-heeled thugs whilst the rest of plane videoed the process for prosperity - hopefully in landscape and not portrait. 

Needless to say they've since upgraded the process and that new process is to offer money. Well, not cash exactly but something called "vouchers". They started at $1,000 and got 6 whole people. They upped the ante to $2,000 and started boarding the plane. We assumed they were done. 

John said earlier that if they got to $2,500 he was bailing on the trip for today. For us this made sense: We were point to point with no connecting flights. We could go home and simply come back tomorrow and arrive Monday instead of Sunday. 

And so we were seated. Seated in a row with a man equally as large as us. Squashed in is a more accurate description since once I was in, I couldn't reach my bag or my seat pocket and my arm was asleep. 

That's when they announced that they needed 4 more volunteers and they were willing to play $3,600 per. 

John and I looked at each other. We thought of our associate Will whom was flying from JFK and we were meeting at Heathrow. The ride to Ipswich was in John's name and Will would be, well, screwed. 

And there was a whole trust thing with the airline. What is a voucher? How long is it good for? What is good for? Can I share it with the chancellor or when we go to Italy in September will it be my wife squeezed into an economy seat between Jaba-the-hut and Jason Kelce and me sipping Prosecco and eating perfect caprese insalata in 1st class, thereby ruining the rest of my trip? 

No thanks. 

They got 3 more volunteers and offered the last seat at a peak price of $3,800. 

We were good to go, right? 

Well, not quite because apparently the baggage folks weren't quite up to speed on the whole "46 less" thing and had put EVERYONE's luggage on the plane. 

So my first question is Why the F did you weigh my luggage if you could somehow squeeze on 46 extra bags without having the landing gear collapse? 

Second question: Why the F did you put all the bags on the plane if you knew 46 people weren't making the flight?

Oh well. Just try to keep that blood circulating in the arm that's asleep. 

After our $3,800 prize winner left the aircraft we had two hours of bumping noises below us as they sorted through 380 people's bags looking for the 46 people's bags that left the plane. 

That must be some process: "Do you have 93560092356?" Nope. "Do you have 93570092356?" Nope. "Do you have 73560092356?" Nope.

Finally we were cleared and left Philly. 

We landed at Heathrow 2 hours late, found John's driver and made the 2 hour drive to Ipswich. 

Ipswich is a big town for the surrounding Suffolk area. By day it reminded me of a PBS murder mystery. (Is that Mrs McGillicuddy floating face up in the Harbor?) and at night it reminded me of any song from the Dire Straight's eponymous first album.

Maybe it was because the opening Lyric to the opening "Down to the Waterline" is:

Sweet surrender on the quayside

and our Hotel was actually on the Quayside. A real Quay! Which, by the way is pronounced like "key"and not like quake. Maybe I expected to see a marquee saying the "Sultans of Swing" were in town.

Either way:

You get a shiver in the dark, It's a raining in the park but meantime- South of the river you stop and you hold everything 

Ipswich is the biggest town in Suffolk and the biggest thing going on in Ipswich seemed to be my Company's building. Completed in 1975, it was and is a big deal for the area. The architect Norman Foster used the shape of the plot of land of make the exterior shape of the building and pushed the technological boundaries of 1975 to hang a curtain of reflective glass as the exterior. The interior, well, you have to see for yourself.

Willis Building - Ipswich

Why is it green and yellow? Because it was one of Lord Norman Foster's first big corporate buildings and as such is registered as a historic building. My company can change nothing including the 1970's green and yellow.

We spent 3 days in Ipswich, drove to Reigate and then I spent a night near Heathrow where I hoped a ride into central London for a few hours.

Pictures here.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018 Eagles Parade.

The decision to go to the first ever Eagles parade was easy. Ever since I started working at 1500 Market, I thought this is a good spot to view a parade.

Getting there was a little harder.

Basically the plan was PATCO in, shelter in place in the office, watch the parade and PATCO home.

Ten years before I did get to see the Phillies parade but that was a different era. Oldest son needed my permission to go. This time he needed his employers and his wife's.

Last time I sauntered in at 7 AM on PATCO and the train was empty. This time there was a one hour line in the cold just to get to the platform and it was SRO.

My building was on lock down, and actually I'm surprised they even opened. I'm not sure how you could have worked after that commute and the madness going on outside.

We settled onto the 22nd floor, had a nice picnic lunch and waited for the parade.


When the parade did come, it was pretty loud.

Here is a timelapse

All Pictures here

'75 Flyers Parade

In 1974 the Philly sports landscape was dismal. The Eagles were 5-8-1, the Phillies nearly lost a hundred and the Sixers were one year removed from the record worst NBA season ever at 9-73.

Philly teams did not win. That much was clear to me in my youth.

But then an upstart sport showed up on the scene, Ice Hockey. It was brutal and resonated almost immediately with Philadelphians when the NHL added an expansion team here. Hockey had turned into my Dad's favorite and he even took us to few games when Flyers were in town and the SPECTRUM had a roof.

By 1974 the Flyers had gotten good by brutality and  intimidation and I had watched TV at a friends as they beat the Boston Bruins - the New England Patriots of that league and time - 1-0.

I recall riding my by bike home thinking that a Philly team had done it, won it all.

This just didn't happen to us.

I did not go to the parade that year. I don't recall why. But we sure did hear about it.

When the Flyers won it again the following year, it was a no brainer. We were going - school or no school.

In 1974, the city was caught completely off guard by the estimated 2 Million people that showed up. It was mayhem.

I'm not sure that they were any better prepared for 1975 - at least by today's standards. They did take the precaution of moving the Flyers and their families to trucks and buses instead of the convertibles used the year before and they change the parade route from the goofy loop around Walnut and Chestnut to more reasonable East on Market, around City Hall and south on Broad to the old JFK stadium.

The crowd felt as if the tri-state area attended a kegger. Every. High. School. Emptied. on to. Market.

I don't recall exactly but I'm sure my high school friends and I took the El from 69th Street to center city. My strongest memory of the day was that as the parade passed, the crowd rushed the parade and attempted to get onto the buses and floats. The attempts to mount the floats were largely thwarted but the buses were left unprotected and the crowd started climbing a bus with the Flyers families. These were basically city SEPTA buses still festooned with their 70's era billboards on the sides. To a crazed teenager, a billboard is practically a written invitation, a ladder, a challenge.

Challenge accepted.

We started to mount the buses via the billboards. My friend Mark was a bit more agile than the rest of us and he was able to grab hold of  the windows past the billboards and he was up and onto the roof. For the rest of us the billboards quickly became an impediment as they were torn from the bus top first and thereby knocking all comers back to the street.

The bus pulled away with Mark and few others as the parade moved on and we never saw Mark again for the rest of the day.

The next day (because in those days once you got separated, you stayed separated unless a miracle occurred i.e. no cell phones)  we found out that Mark had surfed that bus roof all the way into JFK stadium.

It was a real good day.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

5th Time is the charm.

Our 2002 Honda Odyssey still has one piece of Scotch "invisible" tape in the back hatch window at a 45 degree angle, towards the upper drivers side of the window. I know because I put that piece of tape there on Friday the 16th of January in 2004. That and a matching piece of tape held a cardboard Eagles sign from the Philadelphia Inquirer  encouraging the Eagles to win their 3rd attempt at the NFC Championship in the same number of years.

Youngest son is now driving that van as his everyday car. My guess is that he doesn't even know that piece of tape is there. 

But I know. I know because it haunted me every. single. time. I. looked. in. the. rear. view.

It was a reminder that somehow the Eagles had lost that Championship game, at home, badly. 

The first Championship attempt you had a feeling that they were just lucky to be there. It was the height of the St Louis Rams greatest show on turf years and they were the number seed. The Eagles were a 3 seed and had come up through the playoffs the hard way. One home wildcard game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they were know in those days, a defensive showing against the 2 seed Bears in Chicago and finally off to St Louis for Championship week. 
I recall thinking that this was new ground for the Eagles, one game from the "Big Game" as they say when they don't have the rights. The Eagles weren't favored but they came within 1 drive of winning when smiling Donovan McNabb threw a pick to Aeneas Williams with 1:55 left.  

It felt acceptable. They had almost done it. Wait till next year. 

The next year looked even more promising. Eagles were the 1 seed, edging out the 2 seed Bucs becasue they had beat them head to head in week 7.  The talk Championship week was that Bucs can't win if the game time temperature is below 40 because somehow the Bucs were like hothouse flowers that can't stand the cold. 
The last game played at the Vet did not end well with the Bucs winning 27-10. Eagles fans will recall Joe Jurevicius doing what ever he wanted against an injured Blaine Bishop and again the game ending for the Eagles on a McNabb interception, this time to Ronde Barber for a pick 6. 

Which brought us to the 2003/2004 Championship. Surely this can't happen three years in a row, especially since again the Eagles were the 1 seed, favored to win, just coming off the exciting 4th and 26 game divisionals against the Packers? This is the year, right?

You know what happens. Venue doesn't matter and the first Championship game at the Linc ends in a dismal offensive showing by the Eagles and Carolina exposing a glaring weakness for the defense that couldn't stop the run. 

For a year that simple piece of Scotch tape mocked me. Reminding me. 14-3.

Of course 2004/2005 brought TO and a Championship. A stout defense that fixed it's run issues by bringing back Jeremiah Trotter and the McNabb to TO connection crushed teams all year long to the point where not only were they #1 seeds - but they had established that after 14 games and took nearly three weeks off before beating an over extended Minnesota and the Mike Vick led Falcons - all without TO.

So how does tomorrows game feel compared to the above?

Kind of a combo of 2001 and 2005. At the beginning of the year no one expected them to be here. There were a lot of 8-8 prognosticators making it feel like 2001. But then these Eagles got to this game by the shear will of their young, emerging superstar QB who is now hurt - which makes it feel like 2005 with a hurt TO who put them over the top.

I'm honestly not sure what to expect tomorrow. I honestly think these are two mirror image teams with very good defenses, former backup QBs (which ironically were interchangeable teammates on a 2015 7-9 Rams team) and good running games. I think it comes down to Halapoulivaati Vaitai and who makes the most mistakes.

My prediction: Home team wins 20-17. And that's only because 20-17 is the mostly like outcome in any football game and the Home team has an advantage.  

Friday, December 29, 2017

If you were in Seat 38, Row A of the Balcony at the Walter Kerr Theater last night, you may have been inappropriate.

I've heard it said that every office has a Michael Scott and if you don't know who it is, then it is you.

If you were sitting in the Balcony Even side Row A by the spot light, standing with a raised fist yelling Broooooooooooooooooooooooce and singing along at "Springsteen on Broadway" last night... well.. I have some news for you.

I say this because of the dramatic difference between every other hootin' and a hollerin' Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Show I've seen and the performance of Springsteen on Broadway.

You, apparently, did not recognize this difference.

I point this out here not embarrass you but instead to show how different the Broadway show is. It's reverent. It's so quiet at times you hear a pin drop. Sometimes he sings with out the Mic. It's reflective. It's an old man dreaming of boyhood intermixed with songs of boyhood. However, there are times he can rock too.

But it is clearly not an "E Street" performance.

Me and a Psychic

How did I get tickets?

I signed up for the "Verified Fan" ticketing process on a whim. I'd go if picked but it wasn't like I felt compelled to go. When the first round of codes were sent via text, I was in the mountains of remote Carlolina-stan with Wifi but no SMS coverage - unless you count holding your phone in the general direction of civilization out off the highest deck and waiting for "the bar" to show up at 4G. Since my phone is tied to my employers intergalactic corporate account, I couldn't even turn on "wifi calling". So basically I was screwed. I fully expected to receive a text the next day while driving through "town" that basically said "thanks for playing but you needed to respond yesterday".

That never happened.

So I forgot all about verified fan and Springsteen on Broadway until one Sunday when I was cooking on the back deck at home in Mt La-La and received a text about a code for Verified Fan two months later. I was working from home the day tickets went on sale so I thought "why not?"

When 10 AM rolled around, I got right in the site and and panicked a bit at "when would we go?".  I figured the week between Christmas and New Years is good because I'm off and maybe we can make a short vacation out of it. Of course it's difficult to predict 13 degrees with a windchill of 5 in October.

The 28th of December it is. Now, what seats to pick? I started with cheaper lower level seats, picked two and when the price came to seven-hundred-and-something dollars, freaked out a bit. Mr Springsteen, I love you and all but you have enough of my money. The Chancellor was a willing Springsteen victim when it was a large group going out for a good time but 2 hours of Bruce intimacy at seven-hundred-something dollars?

No way.

I dumped the lower level tix, went for the balcony and to my surprise I got two. One hundred sixty something bucks and I could stay married. Winner.

I texted the biggest Bruce fan I know, Gail. Gail is The Chancellor's best friend and the sister of a high school friend - way back when we all lived back in PA. Yes, the Chancellor is a bit like Oprah AND has best friend named Gail. Gail's a little, uh, passionate about these things. When it's an E Street concert, she usually gets Philly AND NY tickets. I told her to save the date as she was my second choice after the Chancellor.

Later that night when I told the Chancellor how lucky we were, the first things she said was "well, you have to to take Gail"

And we were set. Gail and I would go and the Chancellor and Mr Gail would do something New Yorky at Christmas.

Mr Gail wasn't all that happy about it - mostly because for some reason Gail, Bruce's Number 1 Fan in Mt-La-La, neglected to sign up for verified fan ticketing. He wanted to go to the show too but there wasn't much I could do at that point.

It never occurred to me that Gail and I would have to explain our "relationship" until the day of.

Now, not many know this but Gail is a bit of a Springsteen Psychic since he speaks to her in dreams. It started in '99 when she dreamed he would play "Factory" and of course he did. The night before this show she had a dream where we end up on stage.

How would I explain our relationship to Bruce if he asked us when we on stage?

Well, she my wife's best friend and ... Well she really likes You and ... Well my wife, she really doesn't love you. She wanted to go but that whole Verified Fan thing freaked out a bit....  Anyway, we did not get on stage and it never came up, thank God.

13. 13 Freaking degrees.

The day arrived.
The whole day seemed like a race against time. We left Mt-La-La a little after two for a 4:45 dinner reservation at Bond 45 on 46th. (I'd recommend it) Of course NYC traffic at Christmas can be wee a bit hellish and we left plenty of time but somehow still found ourselves in a long line of red tail lights waiting to get in the Lincoln tunnel with 45 minutes and 3.5 miles to go. Waze said we weren't going to make it. Like ever. Never saw that before - "you'll never get there" as the ETA.

We arrived at the restaurant a little after 5 after the coldest 2 block walk I've been on since walking to Junior High School.  They seated us right away and I thought we'd be fine on time from there on. 5 PM, order dinner, how long could that take?

Imagine my surprise when at 6:25 we still didn't have meals. Getting a bit nervous now. I must have spent 3-7 PM just snapping my fit-bit up to examine the time - It's amazing I don't have carpel tunnel.

Dinner arrives at 6:30 and by 7 we are out of there. We had a bit of a scuffle about seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center, which we could if we rushed but I just couldn't rush through something else.  No Tree and off towards Times Square where of course they are setting up for NYE. Snap some selfies and then off to the Kerr Theater on 48th.

So happy it's not 3 days later

Here we separated from our spouses as they went on "The Ride" and we headed into the theater.

The Walter Kerr is old. There is no getting around that. It's clearly from a by-gone era when men in horse costumes danced and told jokes. "Daisey, how many fingers am I holding up?" and the "horse" scratches three times with a hoof. It's that old.

I get the sense that everyone there considers themselves lucky to be there. There's a sense of privilege in the air. "Why, yes, as a matter of fact I did see Springsteen on Broadway, you must go go if you get a chance" type of thing.However, it is the typical NY/NJ Bruce crowd. Before the show my whole row remarked how we were all bald men in the their 50s and 60s. Imagine 480 enlarged prostates.

We make our way to the balcony after finding the Ladies room on the street side, the "odd" side of the mezzanine. I find out the men's room is on the opposite "even" side. The women's room has a sign saying how they want everyone to be comfortable and that you can use what ever bathroom of the sex you recognize yourself as.

I briefly entertain the idea of identifying as a woman - just to save flights of steps.

We meet again the balcony and find our seats on the "even" side. It's really not bad. You can see and hear everything even though it is a strange angle to view the stage.

The show starts a little after 8. There will be no Patti tonight as she's ill at home. Later Bruce tells us she was hospitalized on Christmas with the flu.

The show is a poetic version of the book with appropriate songs on acoustic guitar and piano intermixed. For the faithful, this is a close to a papal audience as they are going to get.

Did I love it? Meh. Don't get me wrong I loved going, but was I going to worship at the feet of He who from Freehold? Probably not.

Bruce is funny though, especially with the ironic stuff. He who wrote "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road" specifically about getting OUT of his home town, now lives 10 minutes from the Famous-because-Bruce-is-from-there Freehold. He tells you that he who wrote "Racing In the Streets" did not know how to drive a car at age 21.

That's when you realize: Bruce Springsteen was that friend that always needed a ride.

He stays away from the Mike Appel days and the darker depression stuff but his father hangs over the whole performance like a shadowy figure. His mom is the happy one. His sister married a rodeo star.

Overall, I enjoyed going and I enjoyed bringing Gail. I just wish the person in seat 38 sang-along less.

On the way out, while I waited in line with 479 other enlarged prostates at the Men's room, Gail snagged us two discarded Springsteen on Broadway souvenir cups (with lids!) and some strangers last swig of beer. Yes, she's that big a fan.

You must go if you get the chance

Growin' Up (guitar)
My Hometown (piano)
My Father's House (guitar)
The Wish (piano)
Thunder Road (guitar)
The Promised Land (guitar)
Born in the U.S.A. (guitar)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (piano)
Long Time Comin' (guitar)
The Ghost of Tom Joad (guitar)
Long Walk Home (guitar)
The Rising (guitar)
Dancing in the Dark/Land of Hope and Dreams (guitar)
Born to Run (guitar)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 the year in review.

Once 2017 is in the rear-view, I'd think The Chancellor and I would look back and think "well that was a good year"

There was a college graduation per son, youngest son started his first big-boy job, our first wedding and of course the pinnacle event: our oldest son got off our cellular data plan. 

I only say this because I've never actually heard of people getting off your data plan and among the our circle of parents of adults, having that warning text come in about how "you" are about to exceed your unbelievably and seemingly insurmountable data plan limit is the bane of our existence. 

But as it says in Genesis:

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and their data plan, and shall cleave unto his wife's" 

And so it was that oldest son and his wife moved onto to Verizon and I gleefully check the AT&T pie charts to see how far we are from our limit. 3.43 GB of 22.39 GB with 17 days left, ba-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. I'm looking forward to seeing how big I can get the rollover to be.

In other news about 2017, it was a big year for travel.

I probably did more more business travel in 2017 than the past 5 years combined and the Chancellor joined me for at least one of those trips.  We went to Colorado to visit her uncle while brother-who-isnt-on-the-internet=even-though-he-has-a-domain was visiting. He left Dulles Airport at 5:30 AM and we left Philly at 8:30 AM and somehow we met them on the road as they drove out of the parking lot of the Safeway in Canon City, CO. We visited with the Uncle in the Mountains (see below) for the weekend and then I attended business meetings in Denver. It worked out perfectly.

We had been planning a return to Italy but we'd have to settle for a wedding and I'll count the wedding as travel since we rented a home in Brigantine and had our family stay with us for several days in September.

I also visited the Joker's Lair in San Francisco, spent less than 24 hours in Tampa, FL and visited our new IT headquarters in Nashville three times.

Mountains were a big theme this year as we visited my brothers place in the mountains of North Carolina, twice visited Lake Wallenpaupak in PA and attended the Papaloni family reunion in Watkins Glen, NY

I guess a business trip to our Arlington, VA office and a weekend in Ashburn, VA also count as travel.

The places I visited in 2017
12,80,92,72,53,33,68,24,53,45,33,77,02,89,25,16,34,97,64,82,69,70,97  Any guesses? These are the deli numbers I've had this year. True story. While waiting to be called I always snap a picture. On the Internet everyone has "a thing". I guess I joined late and all that was left was taking pictures of deli numbers.

We're still doing Hello Fresh  since it matches our Calais Ad lifestyle. Oh and we joined dance lessons at M'Kor Shalom Synagogue to reinforce this. Again, we are two outdoor tubs and a convertible away from having our own Ad. Maybe next year.

The M'Kor Hustle

In other news, my dog is more popular than I am at work after she barks at any molecular movement outside our window while I'm on conference calls and I shared this calendar with co-workers.

We watched an eclipse,
Shot guns.
and I built a new computer
And we bought a car, unseen, over the internet and we love it.

On towards 2018!