You Got to Be Kidding Me!

I’m Back

Posted in Travel by Stacy McMahon on September 21, 2008

Was in California last week, enjoying a mini-vacation to Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco. Quick observations – Tahoe is gorgeous, like Lake Winnipesaukee with the Rockies as a background. Sacramento is dull, even according to the people who live there. UC Davis has all the architectural distinctiveness of a 7-Eleven, but great coffee. And San Francisco is still unbelievably expensive.

More Baby Blogging

Posted in Addison, Travel by Stacy McMahon on April 5, 2007

I’m finally getting caught up after my return from Vail (you can read about that trip here and see pictures here, here and here.)

My first week back is mostly too boring to write about, though I guess if I had real writing talent I could make my laundry, cleaning and conference calls much more intense and riveting than they really were. Anyway, one subject I know everyone likes: cute babies!

Any Idiot Can Have a Kid…

Posted in Addison, Social Life, Travel by Stacy McMahon on March 23, 2007

I know, because I’m an idiot and I had a kid.

First, why I’m an idiot. Vicky and I are joining other friends for some spring skiing in Vail next week, flying out Sunday. Because I’ve been distracted as hell, I started thinking my flight was tomorrow (Saturday) instead. I rushed around this evening packing, forcing my poor girlfriend to watch lame TV shows alone while I washed dishes and ran two loads of laundry. Her night did have one good point when we dropped off the house keys with Sarah and Ed. They invited her to attend their Battlestar season finale party in place of me Sunday night. She’s a closet sci fi fan and I know she’ll love getting her geek on.

Anyway, after all that I go to check the hotel info and find emails referencing the Sunday arrival. Uh oh, which day is my flight, really? I thought I was coordinated with Vicky. And I am — on Sunday. Which reminds me I need to cancel the cab that’s going to show up here at 6:30 am.

Second, if you pay enough attention to this blog to have noticed how I said the post about life’s strange twists and turns was a teaser of sorts, here’s your reward. As of three and a half weeks ago, I am the proud father of a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Addison Grace was born on February 28, the best late birthday gift ever. She is 9 lbs 15 oz (extrapolating from Wednesday’s weigh-in) of perfection. But who wants to listen to me make noise. Have yourselves some pics:

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For those of you more personally in the loop, you probably realize it’s taking me some courage to post here. I’m doing it now because: I want to document Addie’s early life and my reactions, because as her mother says, “she is my gorgeous daughter and I love her; everything else is just details”, because waiting much longer would have risked stealing Christina’s spotlight 🙂 and because this is the only hard post. From now on I’m just another proud dad asshat who thinks their kid is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And hey, it’s not as if I don’t know this will be the first really interesting category I’ve added!

More Globalization

Posted in Economics, Politics, Travel by Stacy McMahon on January 27, 2007

Here’s a good alternative and non-technical take on globalization from Micheal Totten, wanderer extraordinaire and definitely not rich, republican, or conservative. Money quote:

Globalization isn’t all about America. It’s not about making every restaurant, coffee shop, and retail outlet the same. It’s about exchanging goods and ideas. That exchange goes both ways. Countries that trade may grow more alike over time, but they also become more internally varied.

I do wish Starbucks made it to Chile before I did. It’s not like every café would have been a part of the franchise. Plenty of locals are now discovering what they’ve been missing. Some of them will never tolerate instant coffee again. Starbucks is almost sure to inspire local competitors. They’ll take a North American idea (which actually first came from Europe) and then they will make it Chilean. Local cafés won’t be displaced. They will be born.

Twelve Days Without A Post

Posted in Cooking, History, Travel by Stacy McMahon on November 30, 2006

So what did I do with my two weeks? Nothing interesting enough to write about, apparantly. I don’t normally slow down much in winter, but this year seems to be an exception, or it did until I realized why I was so run down earlier this week–caffiene withdrawal! Yes, I inadvertantly bought two pounds of decaf from Dunkin Donuts; one for work and one for home. I blame my personal decaffienation for my failure to notice this until someone else pointed it out. Anyway, when I realized how severe my withdrawal was, I decided it’s time to take a break from coffee. Really I’ve known this for awhile, since I no longer actually feel a coffee buzz, but being sleep all day and ready for bed by 8pm tears it. I’m back to juice and water for awhile.

My other not-really-interesting story is our (the ‘rents and I) visit to Plimoth Plantation on Black Friday. As the name suggests, this is the historical park outside Plymouth, MA. They have reconstructed native and pilgrim villages with interpretive staff, but their real business is hosting modern and 1620-style dinners. More on that later.

The villages were interesting for their historical accuracy (I assume) but even more interesting was the contrast in political correctness. Signs on the path warned us that the native staff are “real indians” (not necessarily Wampanoag) and are not in character. Visitors are to please refrain from whooping, using words like “squaw”, “chief”, “brave” etc.–apparantly “indian” is alright. The pilgrim staff on the other hand are reenactors, are in character, and we told that they will speak with the attitudes and ideas of their day. This turned out to mean, in one case, a lecture on how the Irish are “very much like the savages”. Silly, not that it’s a big deal. But this is Massachusetts afterall.

The star of the trip was the Mayflower II, a 1950s reconstruction of the original, which was just a charter and went on to other jobs and an unknown fate after the Pilgrims’ voyage. The ship is in excellent condition and is taken out sailing a few times a year. I had the impression that it’s possible to crew on it, but will need to check into that more. If so, I know what next year’s vacation will be!

The 1620 Thanksgiving dinner was a mixed bag. The food was interesting and good, with the centerpieces being mussels saute’d in the shell, pumpkin squash, and english “cheesecake”–basically a sweet-ish quiche without the ham. There was some rather mediocre entertainment that reminded everybody (literally, all the strangers around us mentioned it) of a rennaissance festival, and the company left something to be desired. You sit at long tables as in a pub, seats assigned by last name. I was wishing for a pretty girl to sit across from me, and I got my wish–sort of. She was cute alright, but in high school and didn’t want to chitchat with someone old enough to drink. I’d have probably been the same way at her age, but it made it a long hour and a half. My mom told me later that a guy my age sitting near her was from Alexandria. I knew I should have taken the inboard seat!

Old Journals Pt III

Posted in Politics, Silly/Funny, Social Life, Travel by Stacy McMahon on October 21, 2006

In which we cover Nazism in Germany from WW2 to the present day (well, to 13 years ago anyway)

7:06 pm, Austria, July 4
We are in Westendorf, Austria. It is a resort nestled between steep mountains like in “Heidi” The mountains are very beautiful. I got my money changed tonight, and located the post office. Tomorrow, I will buy stamps and send postcards.
Earlier, we visited the Dachau concentration camp site. It was surprisingly sobering. We were pressed for time, but I saw most of the interior exhibits, and walked to the catholic chapel. There were a lot of noisy, unwashed gypsies camped around it, with signs that I couldn’t quite read. I was angry. They seemed somehow disrespectful.

Really, they did. There was some sort of strike or demonstration going on, or at least a bunch of gypsies (that’s clearly what they were) camped around the Catholic memorial at one end of the grounds. This bothered me because it seemed so out of place. Aren’t there plenty of other places for them to camp, without disturbing the reverence of this spot? Yes, gypsies also died in the camps, but I didn’t see a bunch of Israeli tourists starting cooking fires.

The barracks were long gone, but their foundations still exist, lined up in rows like church pews radiating out from the main buildings. Those buildings, of course, were where the medical experiments, torture and mass murder were done. The gates still say Arbeit Macht Frei (“Labor will set you free”–as vicious a lie as has ever been told to anyone) and the main building has been turned into a museum, full of lurid exhibits to give you the full picture of what went on there. Whatever else you want to say about the Germans, they’ve done an admirable job of owning up to their past. I don’t think, for example, there is such a memorial to the Japanese-American internment camps, or the Cherokee Trail of Tears in the United States. Notoriously, Japan has yet to truly acknowledge its crimes, let alone build a museum. The Soviets and Chinese are held up as heroes of the anti-fascist cause even though their own-people body count eclipses even Hitler’s, etc. I could go on about the subject of dealing with collective guilt–how much is enough and how much is too much, but that’s another post.

Later we went to Cheimsee. The lake in southern Bavaria is home to an island where King Ludwig’s castle was built. We didn’t get to see the castle, but I got photos of the lake, tourboats, and of Leslie, Pat, and Mike. I still need a picture of Laura, but we got a group photo after we decorated our bus. I think tomorrow I will also call Mom + Dad and Karen. On the credit card, of course

Postcard list:
————–
M + Dad (check)
Karen (check)
Elissa (check)
Wendy (check)

+keep one for Vicky (check)

Going to Cheimsee but not visiting Mad King Ludwig’s castle was a recurring theme of this trip. We went to the next town over from the famous one, the less-traveled historical sites, spent only half a day in someplace interesting before decamping for the local equivalent of a freeway exit with a hotel and a walmart. I don’t know why this was. Obviously there’s ‘cheap’ to consider, or maybe someone in the home office actually tried to expose us to less touristy places. Thinking about it now, I also wonder if our concerts were a small piece of the economic development puzzle for these off-the-beaten track towns.

Strangely, I didn’t write down the best story of the day. Since it was the 4th, we’d decorated our buses in the Cheimsee parking lot. Even in those days, being an American in Europe was sort of like being a Yankees fan in Boston, so I wondered how the red, white and blue was going to go over.

We got our answer when my little clique wandered off from the group in order to get closer to the waterfront. Three German guys without shirts and obviously drunk came wandering down the path, shouting something or other and pointing towards the main group of Americans nearby. As the only person among us (one of maybe half a dozen on the whole tour) who understood some German, I recognized phrases like “Foreigners get out!” or the alternative “Americans go home!”. I’ve always told this story as ‘how we escaped from the neo-nazis’, but they were probably just the Deutsch version of your garden-variety ignorant redneck. Every society has them. We casually got up and closed ranks with the rest of our 80+ companions, and the “nazis” passed peacefully by.

But that wasn’t the end of them …yet. About an hour later these same buffoons came back around on a peddle-boat. Without any waterborne Jews or foreigners to bait, they’d started in on each other. In full view of the hated Amis two of them proceeded to stand up on the wobbly craft and start swinging. The drunker of the contenders wound up his arm like Bugs Bunny in one of the old baseball-themed Looney Toons, and put his whole body into his punch. Of course the other ultimate racist fighter sidestepped, and Mr. Auslaender raus! sailed right over the side. I don’t remember the details, but he must have hit bottom because when he stood up the water wasn’t much above his knees. It’s too bad we hadn’t managed to spread the story very far–only the five of us really got the full humor of that little show.

Next: a three day rest stop in the Austrian Alps and more of my unintentionally funny comments on girls.

Lightning Interruption

Posted in Blogroll, Four Wheels, Outdoors, Silly/Funny, Travel by Stacy McMahon on October 19, 2006

Just want to toss this out: Micheal Totten’s hilarious attempt at storm-chasing as he drives his new-to-him Acura RSX home to OR. He is far more likely to be washed away by rain than kidnapped by terrorists. If I ever get to meet the guy, let’s hope photography and beer are involved!

Old Journals Pt II

Posted in Social Life, Travel by Stacy McMahon on October 19, 2006

This is the second in a series of excerpts from the 21-page journal of a trip I took to Europe the summer after high school. The first post is here. I finally remembered the name of the tour company: American Music Abroad. They appear to still be in business, and hey, why not? It was generally a fun time, and a way for kids whose families don’t take overseas vacations to see a place they never would otherwise.

Folks, this trip took place in 1993. Thirteen years ago! That’s almost half my life, and I was an adult at the time and even still remember it reasonably well. Can I really be that old? I guess so. Anyway, let’s join my 18 year old self in Germany again, as the tour really gets underway:

We stopped in Heidelburg, where there is a large castle, and an ‘Altstadt’ or old town. I changed $80 into deutschmarks. I now have DM92,10, 90 French francs, and 20 swiss francs. Germans like coins. They come in denominations as high as DM5. I have DM2,10 in change. I also have $1.84 in American change which is worthless here. I have to sit next to a real pete on the bus (coach, sorry. “bus” is politically incorrect. They’ll get mad at you and play Neal Diamond on the stereo really loud for the rest of the day if you say it.) The pete is big, fat, clumsy, dumb, crude, friendless, annoying, smelly, possibly gay, camera-happy, and takes up half my seat as well as his own.

Let’s pause here while I explain two things. First, as I warned you last time, my attitudes and language were a bit different back then. Today I would take exception if someone else included “possibly gay” in a list like that, especially since there are so many other perfectly good (bad?) items on it. Second, some of my friends in high school used to call annoying idiots “petes” after–naturally–a guy named pete who was an annoying idiot. It’s quaint to read that now, and sort of underlines how long ago all this was.

Opening the emergency hatches in the roof fixed the A/C situation. As long as we’re moving, there is a breeze inside that’s more than adequate. There was a big castle in Heidelberg. It had a 45,000 Liter wine cask in the basement. I wandered around the castle and the altstadt and briefly got lost along the river (the river Neckar) In Dinkelsbuehl tonight, I had my first glass of beer. It was Loewenbrau. It tasted nasty and I got slightly tipsy even though I didn’t finish it.

Yup, my first beer at age 18. Without stretching the point too much, it really was a more innocent time (and if you’re my age, that’s a scary thought!) and plenty of us on this trip were enjoying our first chance to imbibe. I mean hey, it was still illegal back home!

July 3, Dinkelsbuehl.
Today we all (Me, Patrick, and Mike) slept through our alarms. We woke up at 8:30, and skipped breakfast. I showered and was the last to leave the room. I bought some tape to mark my film cans and some postcards. I also bought a 0.76 Liter bottle of orange juice. That was my breakfast. My lunch was some strawberries that I bummed off Laura. She and Leslie came to our room for awhile and talked this afternoon. After they left, Pat and I talked for awhile and Mike fell asleep.

For some reason, I was diligent about listing the names of people who figured in my day. I’m glad now that I did, though some of it is hilarious because, of course, I was eyeing up all the girls in the group:

Tara is really cute, and she is nice to me …a rarity among the girls on this tour. She suggested that I spend the last of my change on ice cream. I did, and it was good. Now it’s time for an evening shower, and then dinner. Concert tonight at Bad-Windsheim.

Ah, our first concert. I just may have been wrong about the 10-hour practices back in PA being superfluous, or maybe people just had a lot of wine with lunch. Either way, it’s just a good thing we weren’t singing for our supper, because…

12:23 a.m. The concert was very bad. We were out of tune and had poor tone quality. The band directors were too low down for the brass to be able to see them, and we messed everything up. At least the people didn’t kill us, though some walked out. I don’t want to play in this band again. It is just too bad. Bad-Windsheim is a neat town. It has narrow streets and picturesque buildings, and a real nightlife. I think that Europe is a neat place to visit, but I don’t want to live here. I do want a car, though.

And there’s our last sign of the times for this section. I was such a car nut back then that my residual knowledge today can still irritate the hell out of people. I’ve spared you the lengthy description, but not only did I want a European car, I knew exactly which model and engine option. I may even have known the price–and notice everything is in DM. This is long before anyone was talking about Euros.

Tomorrow, we visit Mad King Ludwig’s castle and re-enact World War II on the Fourth of July!

Old Journals Pt I

Posted in Travel by Stacy McMahon on October 17, 2006

How exactly did a week go by since my last post? Feels like I put it up yesterday. Anyway, since very little worth babbling about is going on with me lately, let’s step into the way-back machine and visit a time when a lot was happening. This post and maybe the next few will feature excerpts from my personal journal on my first trip to Europe, the summer after I graduated high school in 1993. I’m copying them word for word and as close to the original formatting as HTML allows; you are fairly warned that the language and thoughts are those of an 18-year-old, and accordingly lack 30-something social graces. Enjoy!

Day 1, Lancaster, Pa. Franklin + Marshall College

forgotten items list
—————–
1.) Deodorant
2.) Calculator

Today we had 2 largely useless meetings, I discovered that Mr. Schoonover is an asshole and he acts like a faggot, we practiced for an insane, point-of-diminishing returns amount of time (almost 10 hrs.) and we were locked out of our dorm by some pencil-neck security man. The guy that came to unlock the door was straight from central casting. he could have been on C.O.P.S. He got out of his jeep and said “You guys locked out here?” duh! How many pennsylvanians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Bugosh quotable quote #1:

“let’s start with the trumpets. -Oh, that’s a french horn.”

Bugosh, whose first name was (I think) David, was the head band director. The program was to put together a band made up of high school students from around the eastern seaboard, and go around western Europe seeing the sights and playing concerts. An interesting concept, and the actual experience …well, read on:

1

19.20 (7:20 p.m.) , Koblenz, Germany : July 1
The drive from Brussels was long and almost uneventful. We seem to have had bad directions and got lost. Also, the air conditioner on the bus is incapable of beating the heat with the sun shining in through the windows. We arrived at the hotel an hour late, hot, sweaty, irritable and tired. As am I. time to sleep.

And that quick-and-dirty graf wrapped up my entry into Europe. It was a marathon trek from Lancaster to NYC, to Brussels and immediately (I think–we did tour Brussels at some point but that may have been on the way back) to Germany before we took a real breather. Tomorrow, northern Germany!

Call Me a Cab! …Ok, You’re a Cab

Posted in Economics, Social Life, Travel by Stacy McMahon on September 28, 2006

In London a couple years ago, Vicky and I joined her old bridge-playing buddy Jason for a night of clubbing. Jason warned me that British girls are snobbish and unfriendly, and he was right, but it was a fun evening anyway. One of the more interesting parts came near the end when we took a ‘black’ or unregistered cab back to the hotel. This was just a guy making some extra cash by driving people around at night, and quite a bit cheaper than a real cab. Of course you can’t visit London without riding in the funky oldtime cabs, and we did take one of those to the Eurostar terminal the next day.

I thought about that this morning when a coworker joked that he’s going to make a lot of money driving a cab today, since several of us need rides to a going-away lunch. I’ve taken two cab rides in the past week or so, once from National to my house on the way home from California, and another from Japone to Rosslyn when the metro unexpectedly closed at midnight instead of 2am like I thought. Both were $15-20 including tip, which strikes me as a pretty nice hourly rate.

Of course that’s the benefit of the artificial scarcity created by the taxi licensing system, but like most regulatory systems it creates an opportunity for freeriding. In each of my cab rides, the distance was around 5 miles. You probably have to drive around a bit in between fares, but let’s say you have a 5-mile fare for every 10 miles driven. The standard mileage deduction on your taxes is 42 cents, so that’s a cost of $4.20 for your ten miles of driving. If you undercut the pros by $5 then you’re pulling in, conservatively, around $6 for your ten miles. If you can do that 3 times an hour, that’s $18/hr.

So, if you call yourself a cab for 3 hours a night 2-3 times a week, that’s all your going-out money. Not a bad little racket, especially if you’re a student of humanity (or of drunk girls coming home from the club!)