Monday, July 31, 2006

Please Stand By

I don't know when I'm going to have the next post ready, but when it is, it's going to be a long one. Things aren't all smiles and sunshine right now.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Somebody Get The Drano!

I know that some of you have been coming here day in and day out, only to have your little hearts crushed by seeing that same Brave Little Toaster Goes to Albany story from weeks ago (or the haunting visage of the Great Amazo, depending on what link you used to get here). And I apologize, but you have to understand how the internet works. See, the internet is not a truck. I don't know where you got that idea. That's just silly. No, it's a series of tubes. Those tubes can only hold so much before they get filled. And that's a real problem, because when I try to update the blog, and the guy in front of me is stuffing huge amounts of material into the tube, well, it's going to get clogged. It might even back up and start to overflow all over my desk.

Ironically, an influx of disscussion about the series of tubes have actually clogged the tubes themselves. Hopefully, it won't get to the point where they need to have a guy come in to take the whole internet apart. And what happens if he needs to replace a washer or a metric flange or something? The whole internet could be down for days!

So that's where I'm at. It's not for lack of trying; my posts have just been clogged in the series of tubes. You understand. It's out of my hands, really. C'est la vie, snakes on a plane, series of tubes. What can you do?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Albany: Part 3

It was well after midnight by the time we got to bed. But the plan for the next day was to be up and out to breakfast before seven-thirty. Whoever decided on that did not take into consideration how much I enjoy sleeping. Especially on a bed! I hadn't slept on a real bed in months and planned on sleeping the hell out of it.

Saturday morning started off rainy, which didn't bode well for our trip. But considering the distance some of us had traveled, we knew we'd still be going, rain or shine. I sat in bed, waiting for the others to call, and turned the TV on. They were showing a bunch of clips of Aaron Spelling, ending with a static photo set to sad, drippy music. They didn't have the requisite dates at the bottom of the screen, but considering the maudlin music and that he'd had a stroke a few days before, it was pretty clear that he was dead. Unlike the turtle, he only looked 175. I never realized how many shows he produced. His obituary said he set the record with 3,000. I'll assume by "shows" they mean individual episodes and not 3,000 entire series.

Anyway, we checked out and had IHOP for breakfast. NYPinTA called Michele's phone while we were waiting to be served, which was a big relief because we didn't have any way of contacting her and didn't know when she'd be calling. Except Michele told her to hold on for a second and gave the phone to me. I know I've said this before, but just to reiterate: I HATE THE PHONE! I didn't know what to say. Sure, this is someone who I'd talked to many times online and even met in person the night before, but it didn't matter. I just don't like talking on the phone, I get all nervous and incoherent. I mean moreso. Michele took the phone back and translated whatever it was that I'd tried to say, which was something along the lines of IHOP is right across the street from that Sears parking lot where we met Lance and Ali, so let's meet there. She said she hadn't been to that mall in years, but knew where it was, so we agreed to call her again when we were about to leave. But first: breakfast, which included Michele explaining that her parent's named her Michele Lynn, after the Michelin brand tires. Really. I asked if they had that name before or after she was born, because maybe she looked like the Michelin Man as a baby. For some reason she didn't find that nearly as amusing as I did.

Shiny posterWe met NYPinTA in the parking lot and she presented Michele with the UK version of the Serenity poster, which she won as a door prize. Nick had his eyes on the poster, but he won an autographed picture of sultry Brazilian actress Morena Baccarin, who plays Inara. I didn't win squat, but since I live with Michele, I won the poster by proxy. Hurray!

We set off from there in three cars. Michele and I rode with NYP, with Michele riding shotgun, of course, Nick and Christy riding with Jose, and Lance paired with Ali. The Brave Little Toaster lead our caravan, and I don't know if it was because he was trying to show off his mad driving skillz to Christy, but Jose broke away from his standard "old lady" driving technique and took off like greased lightning. The way he quickly became a dot on the horizon, I just figured Nick was driving. But it was all Jose.

The ride to Agawam was about an hour and a half. Along the way, I saw a fawn grazing on the grassy shoulder of I-90. Always excited to see animals in it's natural habitat (in this case being the grassy shoulder of I-90) I blurted out, "Hey! A deer!"

Saying "deer" in a car isn't quite the same as saying "bomb" on an airplane, but it's pretty close. I understand that. Now.

We were following Ali's car until we got separated at a tollbooth, at which point we were on our own. And I'm happy to report that we didn't get lost. Okay, we did stop for directions to see if we were going the right way, and it turned out that we were. But would you consider that getting lost? I choose not to.

It seems to me that the last time I went to Six Flags, it cost something like $35. This time, it was $50, and they charged not by age, but by height. As ridiculous as that sounds, it actually sort of makes sense. The taller you are, the more rides you can go on. They had three price ranges based on height, but it seems like they set it up so that most people fall within the $50 range. Michele is only 5'2" and she still qualified for the highest pay level. The other weird thing is, at least according to the girl that sold us our tickets, they don't take credit cards. That doesn't seem right. If a family of five goes there, even with the different price ranges it could easily cost a total of $250, and they're expected to have that in cash?

Michele exchanged some choice words with the girl, and we joined the others, who had already got their tickets. Somehow they missed the postings on the teller windows about the pay-by-height thing. I guess they just said "four adults" and pooled their money, which meant Christy got screwed because she paid full price when she didn't have to.

I was afraid that bad weather was going to spoil the day, but the weather actually turned out to work in our favor. It was overcast all day, but it never really rained. Still, the threat of rain kept would-be park-goers away and all but eliminated the long, endless lines synonymous with theme parks. It was a virtual ghost town, The clouds kept the temperature nice and cool, avoiding that other theme park staple, blistering heat. Another bonus.

I'd never been on a ride with Michele, so I wasn't sure how she was going to react. Maybe we should have started with the merry-go-round. Instead, I chose Mr. Six's Pandemonium, which can best be described as a Tilt-A-Whirl on a rollercoaster track. Each car seats four people. I sat next to Michele, with Nick and NYPinTA facing us. The others chose to sit it out. Actually, Jose doesn't really ever go on any rides. But he's good to bring along, because you need someone to hold your stuff for you while you're hanging upside-down on the Mind Eraser. And Lance has epilepsy so he didn't go on too many, either. Which stinks because that means he basically paid fifty bucks just to hang out with us. I hope we were entertaining.

But back to the ride...Michele started screaming almost from the moment it took off up until we got unfastened. And not the regular rollercoaster-type scream. This was like a blood-curdling, getting-murdered-type scream. Then she dug her fingernails deep into my shoulder, which hurt like hell and made me scream. And laugh. And wince in pain. Nick and NYPinTA couldn't stop laughing, especially when Michele was grabbing at me with her other hand and I reached over as we clutched each other for dear life. I had no problem with the ride itself; I thought it was great, but I was crying in pain from laughing and because she took a good chunk out of my shoulder. I checked to see the damage after the ride. It hurt, but I only saw a scratch. It wasn't until we got home and I took my shirt off that I saw just behind the little scratch was a big black dried blood stain. It still hurt days later.

I wanted to go on the Flashback next, a rollercoaster that starts off going up an incline backwards before getting pin-balled down all the way through the track going forwards before getting shot back and going through again in reverse. Nick, NYP and especially Michele were all set with that one, but Ali and Christy were brave enough to go on with me. There's a long list of rides that I would have gone on, but no one else wanted to. Which is kind of funny, since I'd only really started liking these types of rides within the past few years. Usually HeDie's there to go on things like the Tomahawk, actually, she's the one who initially forced me to go one those rides in the first place, but she was off rafting in Maine or something. The coasters I like have tons of loops as opposed to steep drops. I can spin around and hang upside-down all day, but I hate that feeling in the pit of my stomach on those drops. Which is why I'm quite happy never setting foot on Superman, and while I did go on both of the park's two wooden rollercoasters, I don't see a need to ever do that again. Wooden rollercoasters...shudder. When your butt lifts off the seat and the only thing that's holding you down is your own white-knuckled hands clenched firmly to a metal bar loosely "locking" you in, it's perfectly acceptably to start blubbering wildly and soiling yourself.

Next up was Houdini's Ghost Tries to Kill You. I don't think that's the official name, but it's the basic plot. It's hard to explain; it's not really a ride, it's more like an optical illusion. I always thought it was pretty cool, but the story they came up with for it is completely ridiculous. Basically, after Houdini died, he somehow became evil, and now he says "Mwa-hahahahaa!" a lot and makes the lights flicker on and off. We all went on this one except Lance and Jose. The idea of the attraction is that you appear to be turned upside-down, but in fact you're still level; only the walls move. The seats do move a little, but no more than at a 45 degree angle, after that point, the walls are what's moving. The walls keep moving until the doors, pictures and exit signs are all upside-down. Then Houdini says something along the lines of "You're in my world now, and only I have the keys to set you free!!! Mwa-hahahahaha!" As soon as he says that, the doors open and the ride is over. So I guess he let us free. He must have thought we seemed like a nice crowd.

After that came the much-ballyhooed Air Hockey tournament. Actually I planned on ballyhooing it on this website but never got around to it. But it was still somewhat ballyhooed nonetheless. And also ultimately anti-climactic. The first round went to Nick, who soundly beat Jose 7-3. I was the next challenger, and did about as well as the U.S. soccer team. I didn't stick around to see Nick finish off Lance, because I went off to find the men's room. When I came out, NYP was waiting for me.

"Michele's sick."


"She threw up."


Great. Michele kept saying she was sorry, and I said I was sorry for making her go on that spinning ride and then the Houdini mind trip. Fortunately she didn't get any of it on her, in fact it was a neat, almost invisible little puddle in the dirt behind a bench. It was almost cute even. After the ordeal, she felt much better, and was fine the rest of the day. On the way out of that section of the park, which was themed after the Old West, I chuckled at a Chinese Laundry sign on one of the fake buildings and grabbed a packet of honey mustard from a food stand selling Turkey legs. Because you never know when you're going to need some honey mustard.

We took a break from the rides and Nick convinced those who didn't know any better that they had to see the Batman Thrill Spectacular. It's the same logic you'd use to justify seeing Catwoman; the act of enduring the show will ultimately make you come out a better person. Actually, the only way the Batman Thrill Spectacular could be any worse would be if it was based on Catwoman. Instead, it's loosely based on that other cinematic masterpiece, Batman Forever. I know what you're thinking: why base a stunt show on a crappy movie from over a decade ago? Well, there's three reasons. First, they built the whole elaborate set around the plot of Batman Forever, and it probably cost a fortune. You can be sure they're going to get their money's worth out of that set. Second, while it would have made sense to update it after Batman and Robin was released, that movie was so tear-inducingly bad it mad Batman Forever look like Shakespeare. And even though Batman Begins is infinitely better then any of the previous films, it's a whole different franchise that doesn't really lend itself to cheesy stunt shows. And finally, the movie was called Batman FOREVER, people, this show ain't going anywhere.

And what a show it is. There's a fine line between "so bad it's good" and "so bad I want to dowse my head with lighter fluid", and this show straddles that line like a champ. Every line is hammed up big time and accompanied by spastic, grossly overexaggerated hand gestures. Batman, alternately riding around on a dirtbike with cartoonishly oversized fins on the back or a replica of the Batmobile that does upwards of three MPH depending on the scene, battles the evil forces of Two-Face and the Riddler, both of whom are played by the same actor. Or should I say overactor? No, actor works fine. Lt. Montoya, the female lead in this little theater of the absurd, gets her ass handed to her no less then three times and takes her sweet time figuring out the bad guy's "riddles." Here's a sample:

"What isn't right but isn't wrong? Hmm...I know! Left! Left isn't not right, but it isn't wrong! To find the Riddler's hideout I need to turn left!"

At which point she turns her head slightly to the left and sees the enormous bright green "hideout" with purple question marks all over it. Very subtle, Riddler. No one will ever think to look for you there. And I know they only have so much space to work with, but even the three-year-olds in the audience were shouting, "It's right next to you, moron!"

Actually, I do love the method they used to solve the riddles. The climax had Batman's voice booming from offstage: "What do you get when you cross a baseball stick (!) with an adult human male?" to which the Riddler slowly replies: "Bat...maaaan?" It was like the two-head monster piecing together words on Sesame Street. Bat. Maaaan? Oh, I love it.

After an overpriced lunch ($6.50 for a slice of pizza, no drink), Lance and I staked out the best spot to get a picture of Christy and Ali on Superman: Ride of Steel. It turned out that Christy wasn't tall enough to get on, so Ali went on by herself. The cars went by way too fast to get any pictures of her, but I got some cool shots of the coaster itself that I'll put up at some point.

We wanted to find a ride that everyone could go on, and apparently that ride is the Skyway, one of those slow-moving, hamster-ball-on-a-ski-lift sort of things that every amusement park is required by law to have. Each hamster ball seated two people, and since there was eight of us, that meant no one got stuck by themselves. A light rain began to fall as we stood in line. Then this happened:

"Hey, Nick. You can dance if you want to."

The Skyway is a one-way trip from one end of the park to the other that gives you a birds-eye-view of the happenings below. While we were getting in, a Looney Tunes parade was marching down the street, butchering some old song or another. "Imagine listening to this all day," said the old black lady that strapped us in and pushed or hamster ball off into the sky.

Nick and NYPinTA were in the first ball, and Nick decided he didn't want to walk all the way back in the rain. There was no line on the other side, so they just got back on and rode it back. We all did the same. It was only six o'clock, but Lance had to be somewhere at a certain time, so we only had time for one more ride, the Buzzsaw. It was just me, Nick and NYP on this one. The Buzzsaw is like the Viking ship ride, but instead of rocking back and forth, tilting you more with every swing, it always swings parallel to the ground so you're always upright. There's probably a better way of explaining it, but I'll be damned if I can think of it.

I think we chose this ride because we were in a rush to leave and there was no line for it whatsoever. Since there was no line, we started to make our way 'round the wooden railing labyrinth to get to the ride, only to have the witch in the enclosed booth overlooking the ride to screech "PLEASE STAY BEHIND THE CHAINS!" out of her loudspeaker. As painstakingly diagrammed by NYPinTA, the waiting area for the ride had two perpendicular chains; one that led to the stairs for the ride and one on the other side of the railing. When the ride stopped and it was our turn to get on, the witch's flying monkey that ran the ride opened the chain on the other side of the railing rather than the one right in front of us. So we walked all the way around the railing (which is what we started to do in the first place before we got berated) to get to the second chain. Freakin' jerk. So we sat down, and as soon as the saftey bar clamped down and the motor started up I remembered Oh yeah. I hate this ride. As we kept swinging up and around, with my feet slipping on the wet floorboards, I continued to protest and express my disstate for that particular ride, much to the delight of Nick and NYP, and probably the flying monkey. Freakin' jerk.

And that was pretty much it. Except for the scary, scary Great Pumpkin. A woman in a skintight orange top and somehow even tighter orange leggings who believed herself to be about fifty pounds lighter than she actually was. Nick had caught a glimpse of her earlier in the day, but I didn't see her until we were about to leave, prompting me to simply say a drawn-out, "Oh."

Goodbyes were said, Jose and Christy shared a hug, and we were all off. NYPinTA followed Ali back to Albany and the BLT went the other direction back to the South Shore. The ride home was uneventful, save for a rousing few rounds of "The Movie Game." The rules are simple: someone starts by sayings the name of an actor and the next person has to say the name of a movie said actor was in. The next person names another actor from that movie, (without repeating anyone who's already been said) and so on. If you can't think of one and you've used your one pass, or if you're incorrect, it's game over, man, game over. The last one standing wins. As usual, I handily won the first game and lost ever single one after that. In one game, all Michele had to do was name a Robert DeNiro movie, and it took forever trying to think of one. She said she kept getting him confused with Al Pacino. After several minutes diliberating and repeatedly saying, "I can't get Al Pacino out of my head!", she came up with "Scarface." Oy. She should have gone with Heat or the Godfather Part II so she'd be right even if she was thinking of the wrong guy. Oh well. There's always the next trip. And when will that be, exactly? Anyone?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Albany, Part 2

Yeah, yeah, it took a while. But it was still quicker than the breaks in-between Henry's Woodstock story. Okay, so we were waiting for Christy at the airport, with most of us not even knowing what she looked like. I thought Jose should have held up a sign with her name on it, like in the movies and beer commercials so she'd spot us. After nearly everyone from the flight had cleared out, Ali saw Christy. This was it. Jose's big moment.

As funny as it would have been if at the last minute he'd have taken off down the hall like the Cowardly Lion and jumped out the window, he seemed pretty relaxed and didn't try to run (although we were blocking the exits). He stepped up and greeted her. She's a little thing. Jose actually towers over her. She probably hugged him or something and he gave her a rose and a Doctor Who DVD. It was a warm, fuzzy moment.

After everyone introduced themselves, we all went back to the airport parking lot. Jose got in Ali's car to ride with his woman, so Nick drove Jose's car and followed Ali to the hotel. She wasn't sure if the hotel was down the road to the right or the left. So of course we went the wrong way. Nick figured it out before the other car did, seeing the addresses were getting higher instead of lower. Phone calls were made, and we got back on the right track, but not before some crazy person tried to run a red light and kill us.

My part in this trip was to get the hotel. I reserved two rooms the week before, one under my name and one under Nick's. They didn't have any with twin beds, only queen. Adult heterosexual men can NEVER sleep in the same bed together, under any circumstances, so Jose said he'd sleep on the floor, since it would be better for his back When we went to check in, the clerk said the rooms weren't together because they were booked solid. But it wasn't a big deal; we were only going to be there for the night and then be on our way. Michele and I took our stuff to our room, which was as far away from the main building as possible and facing the parking lot of the mini-mart next door. But it was just fine for the price. The room had a queen-size bed, a mini fridge and a microwave. Michele didn't have time to take a shower before we left that morning, so she stayed in the room to take a shower while I went back outside with Lance, Ali and Christy. I called Jose to see what we were going to do next, and he said something about the couch opening out into a bed.

"Couch? You guys have a couch?"

Somehow, they ended up with a suite, complete with a kitchenette, sofa, armoire and a big-ass TV. It worked out better this way anyway, but why would they give the crappier room to the person who made the reservations? That's just tacky. Ali and her gang were supposed to stay at the same hotel, but they hadn't made reservations yet. Like I said before, the place was booked solid. I went up to Nick and Jose's room to see how much better then ours it was, and asked if the others wanted to come up and look at the room. Since it was a suite, maybe they could all stay there and they wouldn't have to find another place down the road. But they said they'd look someplace else, so I left them there to check out the room. Jose had the TV on some weird European channel that had coverage of the World Cup, or whatever that soccer thing is called. In-between updates, they did a story on a giant 175-year-old tortoise that died of "apparent heart failure". I'm pretty sure it died of being 175 years old.

While we were watching TV, Jose's phone rang. It was the others outside, who were waiting for me to come back down and let them in. But they said they were going to go find another hotel! If they wanted to go up the room, why didn't they come with me?

We stayed in the room until about six o'clock. Then we broke off into two groups, since Jose, Christy, Lance an Ali were going out to a Mexican restaurant and the rest of us were going to the charity event for abused women. I'd been emailing NYPinTA back and forth about the Serenity thing for months, helping out with flyers and stuff. But I somehow never got around to asking her when we were supposed to meet. Nick had his laptop with him, so we tried to see if she was online, but she was already at the theater at that point. We had the directions, so we took Jose's car and hoped that we'd just meet up with her at the theater.

And who was the first person we saw when we got inside? I don't know, some old woman selling tickets. But after that, there was the internet's NYPinTA, selling T-shirts and wristbands in the lobby, which I was instructed to buy. I didn't have any cash on me, but there was an ATM conveniently located across the lobby, so I had no excuse not to pony up some cash and buy some swag. We hung around the table for a bit before finding our seats. I ordered an orange soda at the concession stand from a woman who's dog had just died. As I was about to pay, I noticed that they had grape and asked if I could switch. She said it wasn't a problem. Man, that story didn't really go anywhere.

Nick called Caboose again, who was now in New York and wanted to know how to get to the theater. Nick gave him directions and he was in his seat before movie started. I still don't know how he did it. Before the movie started, there was a somewhat muffled announcement that there would be an intermission, "at the projectionist's discretion." With that, the house lights went down and it was time for the show.

The music and sound effects really boomed in that big old theater, but it was so cavernous that the actors' voices were nearly drowned out to the point where if you were watching it for the first time, it could be hard to follow what was going on. As promised, in the middle of the flick, actually in the middle of a scene, the movie stopped and an authentic "Let's go out to the lobby" cartoon from the 50's was shown. It was hilarious, but for some reason, they never announced when the movie would start back up; it just came back on without warning and some people were still out getting snacks. After the intermission the voices sounded a lot crisper, so I guess they adjusted the sound.

Anyway, the whole thing was great, even though I still died in the movie (because I'm clearly Wash. They killed me. Those bastards!) Afterwards, NYPinTA was right back at her table, and Michele kept elbowing me until I went up and asked if she wanted to come with us to go eat. She said she was going to finish cleaning up first, so Michele gave her her cellphone number and we left. At which point we all thought, "Hey, we probably should have offered to stay and help out." It's the thought that counts.

We walked back to the car, which was in a lot a couple of blocks away from the theater. Boosey parked somewhere else, so we saw him drive off down the road while we were getting in the car. As he went past, Nick yelled, "Bye, Boosey!" and a voice from the bushes behind our car yelled, "Bye Lucy!" It was creepy.

Somehow, we kept winding up on dead end roads on the way back to the hotel. We drove down three different dead ends, all of which were next to the airport. We finally found the road back and went to eat at the Bennigans in the hotel parking lot. We got a table for four, but Jose and the others soon joined us and doubled the size of our group, with Boosey's local buddy coming and the possibility of NYPinTA showing up later. We were all starving, but the others had already eaten so were just there for drinks. Perhaps due to the confusion, our waiter took some time in getting our orders. Michele gets frightening when she's hungry, so I tried as best as I good to calm her down. We finally got moved to a larger table and everything went pretty smoothly. Jose ordered an obscenely large dessert that he thought would be small but took up nearly the whole table. Boosey sat at the bar with his local buddy, with Nick going back and forth between the bar and the table while downing rum and Cokes. NYPinTA never called, and we got a little concerned because she was supposed to go to Six Flags with us and we had no way of getting in contact with her. In hindsight, we probably should have gotten her number as well. As it was, she had to call us.

Stay tuned for Part 3, in which the Great Pumpkin emerges from the pumpkin patch, and Lt. Montoya tries to decipher the perplexing puzzles of Gotham's Quixotic quizmaster, the Riddler. Same squeegee time, same squeegee channel!