JULY 2006
Monday, July 31, 2006
On Thursday night, we drove out to the Magic Stick club in Detroit to check out the very rockin' Futureheads. The show was really good and a whole lotta fun, and once again, I wish I were 21 and from England.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006
So today I was in my World History to 1500 class (or as I like to call it, History of the World, Part I), and the instructor was talking about the origins of Islam, and how the initial trade system in the middle east worked solely on trust. He then added that this trust still lives on, and that there are all kinds of underground money transfer networks among Muslims, and that you could, say, give $1,000 cash (American) to a guy in a New York City parking garage and tell him that it needs to get to your friend in Iran, and your friend would have the money in like 24 hours. I then made a face reflecting my incredible disbelief, which the instructor promptly noticed. Crazy, yes, he agreed, but he assured me that it was true. But I'm not stupid. I wasn't buying it. If you give your car keys to a guy in a New York City parking garage, you're lucky if you see your car again. But a stack of bills? No way. Besides, no one trusts anyone that much, let alone in a big city, let alone with money, let alone with a lot of money, let alone with a lot of money in untraceable cash. It just doesn't happen.

But then when I got home, I looked it up and learned all about the hawala, or hundi, system of exchange. (Here is where I might ask how we ever got along without the internet, but this little underground exchange system got along just fine without computers. Or even telephones. So...never mind.) Yes, theoretically, you can give a wad of cash to the right person in a large city, and through a small series of transfers and an inordinate amount of trust and good faith, it will get to the person you want it to get to, all within a reasonable amount of time, maybe a day or so. (Although, since 9/11, it seems that the United States government has frowned upon this sort of thing and has been making attempts to curb it, believing that this is how internal terrorist groups are funded.) But still, I had no idea. All that time in New York, and no one ever said a word about it! Not that I know anyone in the Middle East, let alone someone in that part of the world who would want to borrow money from me, and where the hell am I getting $1,000 in cash to just loan out to someone thousands of miles away anyway? But it's kind of cool to know it's out there, and that there is still some modicum of trust in the world. Maybe it's the hush-hush nature of this system that makes it trustworthy, since I've often found that people who say they are trustworthy really are anything but.

Monday, July 24, 2006
Dear god, please help me learn prepositions. My butt was feeling better yesterday, and the weather was about perfect, so we went out biking. At one of the road crossings on the trail, this sign was in front of a church. I had to read it a few times. Yeah, the lord Jesus might be able to save you, but will he be able to teach you proper usage? I don't think so. Umm, unless this is some kind of unusual, Christian-specific way to use the word "on" that they don't tell us Jews about. But I'm pretty sure it's not.

The other sign in town that I need to take a picture of: the marquee at an auto shop that declares July to be tranny month. I had no idea.

Thursday, July 20, 2006
I know I'm usually very anti-McDonalds, but I have to admit, they're doing a lot to change their image. I'm not fooled by their deceptively fattening salads, and I'm sure as hell not eating those non-McNugget chicken finger things they have there, but the upscale coffees are impressive. And -- and! -- for a mere $1.30, you can get a chocolate dip cone! Yeah, a chocolate dip cone! Just like at Dairy Queen. No, it's not as good as the chocolate dip cone at Dairy Queen, but it's not bad either! And, whereas Dairy Queen closes at nine around here, McDonalds is open all goddamn night. Yeah, it'd be nice if the ice cream were a little better, but it's low fat. (And at an art fair last weekend, I found out why it's low fat: you know how when you make okra, there's all that slimey goo inside of it? You can use that slimey goo to make high-quality homemade paper, or you can use that slimey goo to thicken ice cream. Someone at the art fair was making paper with it. Guess how McDonalds uses it?) I'm not about to get McDonalds pancakes on the weekend (even though Paul really likes their pancakes), and I'm sure as hell not advocating Big Mac consumption, but I think the chocolate dip cone might have me sold on McDonalds.

Also: between all the biking we did on Beaver Island and the spin classes I've been attending at the Y, my ass is unbelievably sore. As in, black and blue sore. Seriously, it hurts really bad. Maybe I should invest in a gel seat, or a pair of those padded bike shorts, even though I don't like padded bike shorts because they look like a pair of 1985-era spandex with a Depends adult undergarment tucked inside them. In any case, I'm avoiding any sports involving a small wedge-type seat for the next few days. My ass needs some serious healing time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Last night we were kind of tired of eating out and felt like we needed something healthy, so I made us a big vat of gazpacho. There's a lot left over, which is totally fine. I offered some to a friend of mine, who is vegetarian and who also has liked my cooking a lot in the past, but he said that he didn't really like cold soups. It reminded me of my first cold soup experience. (Yes, I have a first cold soup experience, and yes, I remember it. And yes, I'm about to share it.)

When I was like nine or ten, my grandparents took me up to this resort in the Catskills for a long weekend. I even remember getting out of school early on a Friday morning to go on this trip. Anyway, at this place, breakfast and dinner were included in the cost of the stay. We went in for dinner one night, and the soup they were serving wsa a cold strawberry soup. None of us had ever heard of cold strawberry soup, or even a soup that was sweet, so we were all a little confused. (That was then; I have since learned, between reading lots of food-related writing and endless hours spent watching the Food Network, that cold fruit soups are a Scandanavian thing, and are usually served at weddings or other special occasions.) We thought it was a typo on the menu, or maybe just a little practical joke. But sure enough, the waiters came around with the soup, and everyone got a bowl of thick pink goo, and it wasn't steaming. But when I tried it, it tasted like mashed up strawberries. I really liked it! But my grandfather, who was, like most grandfathers, of the traditional persuasion, was not amused. I think he wanted some chicken rice or vegetable noodle, or something like that. I don't think he ate the strawberry soup. In fact, I think I might have had his bowl after I finished mine.

Not eating the soup wasn't a big deal, because I remember that the dinner portions were kind of hefty, so it wasn't like my grandfather didn't get enough to eat or anything. After the entree plates had been cleared away and the grown-ups were all getting their coffee, the waiters asked us if we would like some ice cream for dessert. I probably got chocolate or pistachio, or maybe even both. My grandfather thought about it for a second, then asked for a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but asked if they could put it in a bowl of the strawberry soup. Again, we laughed, but it was really good! It was basically strawberry sauce with a blob of ice cream in it. Who wouldn't want that?

I told this story to my friend who didn't want gazpacho, and while I don't think this kind of creativity would work as well with a bowl of cold, chunky, tomato-ey soup, it does seem to suggest alternative uses for food items. (Although, vanilla ice cream does seem to go with a remarkable number of things, and have you seen the kinds of ice cream they make on "The Iron Chef"? Trout? Please.) So, sometimes it's a soup, and sometimes it's a sundae.

Monday, July 17, 2006
Cool intersection. We had a bit of a scare with the bikes not staying on the bike rack on our way up, but all in all, our trip to Beaver Island way way way up in Lake Michigan was very nice indeed. We left insanely early on Thursday. I won't say how early, but let's just say if I were still in New York state, I could have gotten a drink before last call. Anyway, we made it up to Charlevoix in time for the 8:30 ferry, a 135 minute trek across 32 miles of water. The boat wasn't too crowded, and the sun felt good, and it was all in all a nice ride out.

I had never been up to Beaver Island, but I had been to Mackinac Island several times. I wasn't expecting Beaver to be like Mackinac: you can have cars on Beaver Island, for one, and its remote-ness suggested that it might not be as popular. That turned out to be true, but in a good way. It was just nice and relaxed. And the people on Beaver Island were incredibly nice. Incredibly nice! So nice that it was almost suspicious. Like, people kept offering us rides, and you had to wave or say hi to everyone who went past, even if they were in a car, because they waved or said hi to you. Everyone was just happy. At first I thought some of our stuff might get ripped off, but then I just accepted that the 500 or so year-round residents up there are just really nice, and it just kind of rubs off on the tourists. (Paul thinks it's because in the isolation of winter, their remote location makes residents depend upon one another more than we might on the mainland, and so they've just come to be friendly.) In fact, we stopped at a coffee shop a few miles outside of the little town on the island, and the people in there practically fell over themselves to get us a couple of cookies. And, we forgot to bring a bike lock, but the man at the lodge where we stayed assured us that our bikes would be fine ("It's an island"). He was right.

Between relaxing, walking, and the occasional rainstorm, we did a lot of biking. There are a few paved roads on Beaver Island, but many of them are dirt, so it was a bit of a challenge. My quads are still tingling, but it was fun to see all of the different views and smell the lake. The above photo was taken in the town on the island; like a lot of cities in Michigan, there was a Lake Street and a Michigan Avenue, but unlike other cities, here they intersected. Kind of neat.

We were surprised at how many people brought cars over with them. I guess if you live there year round (which some people do), having a car isn't a bad idea for grocery shopping, bad weather, and general convenience. But gas there is expensive ($3.79 when we were there over the weekend), and it's even more to take your car from the mainland on the ferry ($65 each way for a basic sedan, plus fuel surcharge, and more for SUVs, vans, and trucks). We got around just fine on our bikes (eight bucks each per crossing), and we spent our savings on a bottle of wine and a great meal at Nina's, which was right downstairs from our room and had a great view of the lake at sunset.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006
It seems like I just got back from vacation, but tomorrow we're going away again. Actually, it's kind of nice, and if I don't do this kind of thing in the summer, I don't really get to do it at all. Anyway, we are off to Beaver Island, way up in Lake Michigan, for biking and relaxation and fun. Plus, it's supposed to be about 95 degrees here over the weekend, which should mean it'll be roughly 80 up there; that might be a little more comfortable. I'm not sure if there will be any wifi, or even a cell phone signal, but it might be nice to be disconnected for a few days. Anyhoo, back next week.

Monday, July 10, 2006
One of my favorite things about youtube is the nostalgia factor. For about two weeks in 1994, The Ocean Blue's Beneath the Rhythm and Sound was the only CD I listened to. Then I got sick of it, and I have no idea what I did with it. I also had no idea that they made any videos, but look, right here, it's a video for "Don't Believe Everything You Hear." And for 1994, it's technically kind of cool, too. Then, should you enjoy that and be reveling in your memories of early '90s wuss rock, there's also a live performance of "Sublime" right here. Now that I watch closely, the lead singer reminds me of an old roommate I used to have in college who had a similar haircut -- remember when flippy hair was cool? Unfortunately, this roommate also used to cook hamburgers on the stove in butter. A stick of butter. For ever two burgers. And then not clean up for a few days. (I thought I would miss college, but I guess I don't.)

Thursday, July 6, 2006
I think most people have their usual store where they do their food shopping, and within that store, they have a routine and pretty much know where everything is. I usually go to the local supermegamart down the street. This company has other stores around the area, and sometimes I go to one of them (better international aisles), but it always takes me longer because I can't just shop on autopilot. Not to say that if you dropped me at any supermarket in the country with a list of ten items, I couldn't eventually find all ten, but I could find all ten much faster at my local store. You get the idea.

Anyway, my local store has decided to rearrange everything. I knew it was coming, but tonight when I stopped by for a quick shopping, half the store was in a different place. It was totally disorienting. What's worse was that the three areas of the store that I needed to go to (food, bike stuff, grill stuff) hadn't been moved at all, but because everything else had, I felt lost.

Another thing today: I tried spinning! The group cycling excersize, not spinning around in a circle, although it left me just as dizzy. Who knew spin class was so intense? I had to get off the bike and sit on the ground at one point, just to keep from passing out. I felt like a wuss for not being as in shape as I'd like to think I am, so I am going to load up on carbs and Gatorade and give it another try tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Dear Spirit Airlines,

I don't mind telling you guys that you have a pretty good business going on there. I think this boutique airline thing that's been getting popular in recent years maybe is good for the commercial aviation sector, and since fancypants Jet Blue can't be bothered with the Midwest and Song and Ted are another gas hike away from being unreliable, you're all we've got. I think we're doing alright.

Sprit, you guys fly to good places, all right from Detroit. You fly to Atlantic City! That's awesome! Yeah, there's not a lot going on there right now, what with the state shutdown of the casinos -- and really, why else would anyone go to Atlantic City? -- but you fly there, and I like that. In fact, the plane we flew down to Ft. Myers on was called The Spirit of Atlantic City. I've noticed that naming planes is one of those things that boutique airlines are doing these days. Kudos on keeping up the trend.

About that flight: it was actually very good! And that's quite a compliment coming from me, as I am a terrible flier. Let's just say I have an overactive imagination and leave it at that. Anyhoo, I know your pilots aren't responsible for weather patterns, but the weather was good and the flight was smooth. And your crew was cool too; the attendant who showed us to our seats when we agreed to switch with the mom with two kids was super nice. She didn't have to give us a free drink, but she did, and that kicked ass. I would have been happy to just not hear one of her kids scream the whole way down, but the drink was really a nice bonus. And her kids were quiet to boot. Everyone wins! (Me especially, but everyone.)

Another thing I liked about that flight: we were on a new plane. I didn't catch the delivery date of the aircraft, as I usually do, but I wasn't worried about it. I saw The Spirit of Atlantic City sitting at the gate before we boarded, and I noticed that it was a squeaky-clean, brand-new A319. And when we got on, it still had that new plane smell. Somehow I feel safer on new planes. Yeah, I know, the old ones are workhores, you call them ol' reliable, but I like the new ones.

But Spirit, my flight back was less impressive. Yeah, the weather held out and it was smooth -- I'm not complaining about that. But after getting down to Florida on a shiny new plane, the one I came back on was an old MD80. I checked out the delivery date when I got on the plane, and do you know how old that plane was? It was delivered on August 22, 1990! That plane is 16 years old! I know planes last longer than cars, but my gosh! And let's just say it looked like it had been used regularly for your Orlando route, if you catch my drift. The inside was pretty much torn up, like a tornado, or several thousand spoiled, over-sugared nine-year-olds, had been through it. I know 16-year-old planes aren't going to look spotless, but this one was pretty freakin' bad.

But Spirit, I did read in your in-flight magazine that you'll soon be replacing those old jets with new Airbus planes, which is good. (And yes, I always flip through the in-flight magazine, mostly to check out the airline's fleet. Spirit, that page is missing from your in-flight magazine. I want to know about the fleet!) But for the love of all things that float, do it sooner rather than later. Honestly, if it hadn't been for that shiny new plane with the wider seats and roomier aisles, I would have a much different opinion of your enterprise than I currently do. Park those dinosaurs out in the desert with the L1011s and 727s, convert one into an aviation-themed restaurant, or sell one to the producers of Lost for parts -- I don't care what you do with them, but don't let your customers see them, and don't put them in the air. It makes you look bad.

So, Spirit, I just wanted to say thanks for two smooth flights. I will fly with you again the next time, as one of our flight attendants said when we landed in Florida, I feel the urge to go hurtling through the atmosphere at 500 miles an hour, seven miles above the earth in a pressurized metal tube. And I hope I never have to ride in one of those crappy old planes again. You guys are alright.

Your pal,


Sunday, July 2, 2006
I got back from Florida yesterday! It was a really fun, relaxing week, and I did lots of reading and lots of walking on the beach. My calves and the bottoms of my feet are just recovering. The beach down in Marco Island has millions of shells and shell fragments covering the sand, and while this provides hours of enjoyable hunting for "good" shells for people like my mom, it is hell on bare feet. But I managed. I also got very tan! I don't think I've been this tan in a long time. I am so totally brown -- or as I jokingly told Paul, "golden brown and delicious." Anyway.

Since I was with my family, we went out to eat a lot. Going out to good restaurants is one of my father's favorite things. Sometimes it's weird when we have dinner reservations three months in advance, but as he has never picked a bad restaurant and as he almost always picks up the tab, I do not complain. We ate well. Maybe a little too well, in fact: I ate a lot of fish and shellfish, and toward the end of the week, I was wondering if the mercury levels in my body were approaching alert levels. But I feel alright, so I guess I'm not too worried (though I won't be grilling fish any time in the next week or two, just to be on the safe side). We even got in a breakfast at my favorite place for culinary slumming, the Southern mecca of inexpensive breakfasty satisfaction, where you order potatoes by adjectives and the sweet tea flows freely, The Waffle House. I had mine scattered, covered, chopped, and capped, in case you were curious. If you don't know what that means, it's not important, really.

Much of the week was spent wandering around with my toes in the gulf and reading by the pool, but we did manage to hit two area attractions. The first was the Naples Museum of Art, which had an exhibit of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture and drawings and a small but respectable gallery full of miniatures (my newest odd fascination). And they had some Chihuly stuff too, but maybe I'm a little Chihuly-ed out. The other place we visited was the Corkscrew Nature Preserve. When we arrived at Corkscrew, there were rumors of a black bear sighting, but we didn't see it. Actually, we didn't see much besides a few alligators and some of the biggest, nastiest, bugs you hope to never cruch your foot down upon. Seriously, these were like of Japanese-horror-film proportions. Big bugs. Ick. But the place was really nice, and the boardwalk that winds through the swampy terrain has lots of little information cards about what you can and may see.

And then there were the flights. More on that soon.

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