Friday, March 30, 2007

My E.coli meal of doom

Last night after a hectic day at work, Ryan and I headed to the Chestnut Hill Mall to pick up a couple things, and had dinner at Charlie's. Shortly after beginning my entree - a spinach / steak salad - I realized the death trap that was my meal. Uncooked spinach and medium (actually, it was kind of rare) beef. E. coli haven.

We'll see how the weekend goes. This might be my final Platinum Elite entry. In which case, I give maintenance and continued posting responsibilities of covering my hospital stay, passing to the next life, wake, funeral, and grieving, to Jamen. Thanks, man!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Golden showers fill your eyes

*Disclaimer - Author has no intention of disparaging Southie, its inhabitants, their surroundings, their automobiles, their parking spot markers, or their furry creatures.

To: Older, public-urinating man
Fr: Jason
Re: Yesterday evening

I wanted to thank you for rendering me speechless after parking my car, turning off the ignition, turning off the lights, sitting there a brief moment longer to finish a phone conversation, and having the good fortune to watch you saunter up, prop yourself up against a chain-link fence, whip it out, and relieve yourself 6 feet in front of me, in my direction. The fully monty, brotha!

Whether you were too drunk to hold it or too old to care, your actions were a novel way to welcome me home after a long day of staring at a computer screen. For that, I thank you.

(n.b. / FYI - the title is a Beatles reference...well, a reconstituted Beatles reference)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Step 1 of 12

I am a Pokerholic. There, I said it.

It's not all bad - over the course of my lifetime of playing (pretty much the past 3 or so years), my net winnings are definitely on the plus side. It's not like I am mortgaging my home, car, and Starbucks mugs. My teeth haven't rotted out from meth use. My liver is still healthy.

The down-swings, however, drive me nuts. In the poker world, they call it "being on tilt" if your play becomes a bit reckless after sufferring a "bad beat" or two. I try not to fall victim, but it's very difficult sometimes - for example, when your opponent has literally one card out of 44 unexposed cards which would cause him to win, and he catches it on that final "river" card. Ugh. That happened on Sunday. I hate "one outters" when I'm on the losing side.

Since the start of the new year, i switched on online No-Limit cash games. Not like the tournaments on ESPN, more like the structure of "High Stakes Poker" on GSN, minus the high stakes. $100 buy in to a table. I usually play 2 at the same time. Some nights, you grind out a $40 win, some nights you end up $300, some nights, down $200. Hopefully, in the long run, things end up positive on your side.

I said to myself if my bankroll ever hit 50% of its peak, it was time to cash out. That happened Sunday. This year, my $100 became $1,700, and ended at $893. So, still a win, and a good one at that, but with my record-keeping that friends have criticized, I learned my hourly take was around $8.00 an hour. Not bad for sitting in my recliner watching Planet Earth on Discover HD. But once you're up there flirting with 20x your buy-in, you begin to feel invincible.

Now that Spring is here, and it's lighter later, and it's warmer in Boston, it's time to make the formerly fat jeans less tight, read more, resume my Spanish classes, and not obsess about hiting my flush draws every night.

This is just like my revelation playing golf my senior year in college. I'm not very good at the game. Sometimes shots are incredible, sometimes my Approach Wedge works like magic, sometimes my Putting is on. But never does my entire game come together, and I end up around 100-110 for a round of 18 with my method of scoring (no penalty strokes, hole max 8, winter rules all year, reloading off the tee is OK, etc). Once I decided in my head that I wasn't going to be shooting in the 70's, and I wouldn't get better at golf unless I took lessons, practiced a ton, and devoted lots of time and money to my progress, I relaxed and had fun playing. Now, I don't really worry about my score, and my enjoyment of playing golf has skyrocketed.

I need to do the same thing about poker. I'm not going to become a pro. It won't pay for a down payment on my dream home. But, it's still fun, and playing with moderation will make me less irritated during the bankroll swings.

Ahora, yo regreso aprendiendo mi Espanol.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Perfect Timing

With perfect timing, the spirits of itunes descended upon the Gold's Gym in Southie and laughed riotously while rewarding my initial lift on the bench press with the gentle tones of Annie Lennox's "No More 'I Love You's."

You know that mildly irritating commercial with the gym dude rocking out to Fall Out Boy, only to get a call from "his lady?" Yeah - wasn't like that.

Spring Cleaning

I am in major consumption mode, but not out of hunger. I feel like my freezer, cupboards, and fridge deserve a complete eat-through, devouring second-halves of entrees I have previously prepared and frozen for easy defrost-n-go meals.

Further, my frozen but uncooked frozen meat products are victims of my laziness. I'm now faced with some mysterious items wrapped in aluminum foil rather than neatly organized and labeled packages. I am looking forward to taking a package of chicken out for defrosting, only to end up with boneless pork chops. It's happened before.

It's time to declutter as well. I am looking around my home office and stuff everywhere - things I don't need nor want, but don't have the heart to throw away. I remember reading something about a guy who sold everything he owned on eBay. Currently, that idea sounds very appealing to me.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Reduce and Reuse

I did something this weekend that I haven't done in years. I returned some 5 cent deposit bottles.

Not to sound elitist or anything - on the contrary in fact. I generally separate my deposit bottles from the rest of my recyclables, and leave them on the curb in a separate bag for someone less fortunate to grab and add to their stash. (If you happen to be reading this from somewhere other than Boston, on our trash / recycle days, people walk the neighborhoods, often with shopping carts, taking deposit bottles before the city's recycling trucks get them). It's a symbiotic relationship - I recycle, someone who needs the cash gets it.

Returning deposit bottles is a tough way to make a living. I remember my parents allowing me to keep the deposit money each week, and I would diligently bring the deposit soda bottles to The Food Emporium, and collect my dollar or so every few weeks. Deposit bottles were 5 cents back in the early 80's, and they are still 5 cents now. Inflation did not drive up their cost. Therefore, professional bottle collectors haven't had a raise in decades unless they collect more bottles each year (I know they exist, because I remember seeing a story on TV about some hard-working parents who earned $30,000 a year doing this, and their daughter went to MIT on a scholarship after their scholarship committee heard their story).

I haven't been in town for a trash / recycle day in months. The trash bags, in case I'm away on trash day, I can put into our garbage cans locked behind our side door, and my upstairs neighbor will usually check to see if there's anything in the cans on the night before trash day. The recyclables though - I suppose I could have put them back there as well, but for some reason I like to be in town to bring the blue bin back upstairs. I have already had one disappear, and while they are free, I suppose my concern is valid.

With St. Patrick's Day behind us, and the various nights I have had friends over drinking beer, I accumulated 63 deposit bottles. Enough to fill a tall garbage bag. I kind of wanted to just get rid of them, even though they were on my deck, out of sight (for me). Connecting the dots, I thought getting rid of a full garbage bag + $3.15 + heading out to do errands = return the bottles. Why not.

Off to Stop & Shop I go. Their new recycle area at the Dorchester store is clean and fully functional. The 9 plastic bottles went without a hitch. Hit the button, cash out a 45 cent certificate - just like a new winning slot machine that doesn't dispense coins. The cans, though, were a problem. After the second Miller Lite can, I realized that this store was not going to accept beer cans. In New York, grocery stores sell beer, so it was never an issue those rare times my father consumed some beer along with the Coca Cola we drank religiously (I was never told it was going to get me fat - bad parenting!) So, I fished out 9 non-beer cans, cashed out another 45 cent certificate, and put my garbage bag back into my car, with a sticky right hand that now smelled like old beer.

I went home, and brought the remaining stash to my local corner store that also sells a nice selection of beer, wine, and spirits. I asked if he accepted deposit cans, he said he "wouldn't take like many do you have?" I showed him the half-filled bag, told him there was $2.25 in there, but to be sure to just give me 2 bucks - which is exactly what he did. He seemed a little suspicious of the quantity, and clearly neither of us felt like counting the cans there. A small discount off my desired amount moved things along smoothly.

With 2 extra dollars in my wallet and 90 cents worth of certificates in my car, I forge ahead into my first week in town since January!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A grande double soy latte with foam in a venti cup

Just when those friendly Starbucks baristas lull us into a false sense of congeniality...

I saw this posting on a Starbucks blog, and thought it was one of the better rants I have read recently!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Manny's grillz

You know it’s The Year 2007 when you see the headline in USA Today stating “Bidding for Ramirez’s $4,000 grill heating up,” and you assume that he’s selling his gold mouth jewelry rather than the outdoor cooking grill that he’s actually selling.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

6 letters, rhymes with Boston

Well, we're a bit delayed here in Austin this morning. One of the greatest things about Internet access at airports is the ability to check flight info from airlines' websites rather than relying on the vague information that gate agents supply. The inbound flight from Boston departed 30 minutes late, hence the delay. The good news is that the plane, according to the flight tracker, is somewhere between Houston and Austin now.

With the chaos of travel, moving your current worldly possessions that fit into two bags around from place to place, through security checkpoints, making sure your gooey stuff fits into a small Ziploc bag, not bringing any vile, prohibited liquids such as coffee or spit through security, disrobing before walking through metal detectors, searching for an elusive power port to recharge the many travel gadgets Airworldians cart around - sometimes it's a tall task to stop and smell the roses a bit.

A few weeks ago, I learned that Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is unique in that all of the retailers are local - no Starbucks, no Dunkin Donuts, no Brooks Brothers, no L'Occitane. While none of the coffee brewers beyond security have yet to master a decent cup of joe, the local elements add to the charm of this airport. Rock and Americana music is pumped through the overhead speakers, and often live bands perform pre-security. There's even an interesting push to privatize the airport.

There is a display of model airplanes and accompanying historic photos about the airport, depicting its transformation from a key Air Force base established in 1942, to what it is today.

It even appears that ExpressJet is about to make Austin one of its key cities, flying point-to-point routes to Corpus Christi, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tucson, LA/Ontario, and Albuquerque. ExpressJet was pretty much Continental's regional jet partner ever since I began flying Continental, but now it appears they are looking to diversify a bit and go it alone at some point-to-point flights throughout the South, West, and Northwest.

All my friends in Austin

I'm headed to the airport in a bit to test my luck with a jetBlue flight from Austin to Boston. After returning home last week a day early and skipping this same flight last Friday, I learned that my friend Mike had flown the opposite segment from Boston to Austin on that same day just before the snow. He was headed to SXSW last weekend. So, basically, I would have been hanging out in the gate area as he deplaned into the same gate area.

A couple weeks ago, and again after the fact, I learned that my friend John was on that same Austin to Boston jetBlue flight that I was also taking. I find it odd that I completely missed him in the gate area or on board, but we had an hour delay, so I was waiting elsewhere.

This morning, I'm not sure which Boston friend I will be seeing on this flight or at the airport. I do know that Jamen asked me to buy him a UT hat (he saw mine and liked it so much) and mention it on here. I think it's a pretty cool hat. And wearing it around Fenway, I would be less likely to get bludgeoned than if I had a Yankees hat on.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Another TSA confrontation

While I understand the significance of the TSA, I’m always irritated by the fact that they are always right. There’s no challenging the TSA. And the worst characteristic of their policies is that they are not 100% consistent at each location.

Pre “liquid/gel bomb” rules, I can recall numerous discrepancies in shoe removal procedures. Some airports let mostly all shoes through, while others made you remove everything – from cowboy boots to sneakers to flip flops. What’s a hoodie at one TSA checkpoint is a jacket at another (and, therefore, needs to be removed).

The human element of TSA screening is what creates this confusion, and I’m assuming, travelers’ frustration with the inconsistent rules.

This week in Dallas, during my 12th flight this year with all of my luggage as carry-on, I learned the following: my small, unmarked container of my hair stuff is a no-no (“fine, take it”), and my clear, solid deodorant is actually a “gel” (or, “close enough to one,” as informed), and needed to be in my small quart plastic bag along with my other creamy / liquidy / gelly stuff. Perhaps I need to refresh my memory on chemistry 101. I still think it’s a solid.

And the unmarked container deal – the simple way around that is reusing marked containers. I have plenty of little bottles of stuff. Who is to stop someone from carrying 3 oz of lighter fluid through security in a little Marriott shampoo container?

I know it’s a character trait of mine – having the last word, being right, etc. With the TSA, for people like me, it’s excruciating sometimes, because passengers are never right when the TSA challenges us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

No comment.

Well, OK, one comment.
While I did not eat this from the breakfast buffet on Thursday, a photo op was too good to pass up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Clear Day in LA

Here's a pic from my hotel in Hollywood last week. There's a bit of a reflection of the hotel room in the upper right-hand corner (I took it through a window and must not have held the camera close enough to eliminate that glare).

It's not necessarily a common occurrence in LA to see clear across the area from Hollywood to downtown (upper right area beneath the reflection). The smog created with Cali car culture combined with the marine layer can be terrible!

Bigger in Texas

This is post #100 here on Platinum Elite.

On Monday, I flew to DFW, deplaning and walking through the very same gate area in which I sat last October, delayed and forced to listen to "entitled" fellow Airworldians complain about a multitiude of travel maladies.

This week, on our full flight from IAH-DFW, I found a particular irony in the size of Continental's coach cabin, the smaller distance between rows in coach, and the larger relative size of Texans. People here are simply bigger than citizens of other U.S. cities - wider and thicker, there's just more human mass here. I sat in seat 7F waching others board, wondering if we were going to have to dump fuel into the Gulf of Mexico because we were over the allowed weight for the aircraft.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Boston from above

I'm a bit bummed that I forgot to switch the resolution of my camera back to 5 Megapixels when I took these pics, but is what it is.

Window seat, clear day to fly - cool photos of Boston!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lucifer's servants

On today's overbooked Delta flight back from LAX, we had the pleasure of hosting a USC a capella group, who serenaded us with their rendition of "Hooked On A Feeling" just before our final approach into Logan. We were told that they were performing at Faneuil Hall tomorrow, and then in NYC and Philly later this weekend.

Just as a blog commenter suggested about there being "a special place in hell" for mug collectors...that same hell features neverending college a capella music pumped across an endless array of speakers throughout hell's landscape. And the members of Rockapella are friends with the demon himself.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

My Starbucks City Mugs

I have this odd habit of purchasing ceramic city mugs from Starbucks during my travels. Many major cities have customized mugs featuring that city’s skyline or significant monuments and noteworthy places, and to me it’s a bit of a game to collect as many as possible. I have even had dreams of mugs at times. Very odd. It's nice to see that I'm not the most psycho person about this.

Many of my friends and old co-workers are aware of this strange obsession, and have fueled my fire by purchasing mugs for me during their travels. Mike the Architect bought me mugs from China (and his mom even bought me a Cleveland mug), Jamen bought me a mug from Cancun, my old co-workers even chipped in – Stuart bought me Frankfurt and Australia, Tim bought a mug from Thailand, my old boss Allen was great in buying me mugs from Kuwait and some other exotic locales. My companion-in-mug Elliott (another old co-worker) bought the most mugs for me…..and vice versa. We often traveled to different cities for work, and bought each other mugs whenever we saw new ones that we knew the other did not have. I got him doing the mug thing until his new wife put an end to the insanity.

Ever few years, they release a new style of mug – the perfect way to rope people like me in to buying multiple mugs for the same cities. For example, I have 4 different Boston mugs. My favorite is their “art deco” one which included only a few cities in the series.

Every so often, I will find an out of place mug – i.e. a city mug for a city in which I’m not. Once in Philadelphia, I found a New Orleans mug (which I mistakenly put into my checked luggage to have US Airways break – never did that again!). In Providence, I found a Cleveland mug. And at Logan’s Terminal A Starbucks this week, I found a Niagara Falls mug – probably my best “fish out of water” mug score thus far, as I don’t plan to be in Niagara Falls any time soon.

I think Niagara Falls is mug #61. I’ll have to do a mugcount at some point.

Last summer, I had a MAJOR mug misstep. En route to Croatia last summer, I saw a Starbucks at Gatwick that had multiple mugs from places throughout the UK and Ireland – a Scotland mug, a London mug, an England mug, a Dublin mug, etc., . Probably 6 different ones in total. I figured I would purchase the mug bounty on my way back from Croatia, as to not be on vacation and on the buses that travel Croatia’s coastline with a half-dozen ceramic mugs in tow.

Well, I should have thought that with my different flight routing and carriers, I would not be passing through the same terminals going in each direction. Headed there, I flew Newark to London-Gatwick (where Continental has quite a large operation), then connected to a British Airways flight to Split, Croatia. Coming back, it was BA from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Gatwick, and Gatwick to Cleveland to Newark (reward ticket, cheaper-mileage first class the whole was if I did the Cleveland thing, so why not?) The problem is the whole International customs / immigration thing. When flying between different countries, the connecting procedure is not as simple as deplaning and walking to the next gate. I should have figured that their immigration area would not spit me back into the general concourse, but instead direct me through a labyrinth-like maze that bypassed the Starbucks I saw on the way through the first time.

Total missed opportunity. Total bummer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nickel and Diming at the Renaissance Hotel Hollywood

In this day and age of ubiquitous Internet access, it’s so irritating to find nice hotels that cheap out on providing Internet access to their guests. And by cheap out, I’m suggesting passing along ridiculous fees to patrons.

I’m at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood today, and for what they charge, they are ripping off their guests in terms of Internet access. Shame on them – major thumbs-down.

These days, free WiFi is common in hotels. For properties without free Wifi, often their offerings are free High-Speed Wired connections or daily access fees – something like $10-$12 for 24 hours of unlimited access.

The Renaissance Hollywood offers the $10/day wired High-Speed package for the guest rooms. Terrific. Unfortunately, their wireless provider is a different company, which charges $2.95 for 15 minutes and 25 cents per minute thereafter. What a rip-off!

Free wireless should not be limited to the budget or midsize hotels. For example, Courtyard prides itself on free High-Speed Internet.

I’m here on business – we have 7 meetings scheduled this week, many of them at the hotel. It would be nice to have laptop Internet access without absurd fees, as our database software is web-based and accessing it throughout the day would be helpful.
So my vote – not only is the Renaissance Hollywood not worth their room fees, but their Internet options are inexcusable. Stay somewhere else.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Watch your back

This weekend, my cousin Kyle and I took a drive to Foxwoods for another cousin’s 30th birthday party. Kyle is headed to Acapulco for Spring Break starting on Friday. He has a 6am departure out of Logan, and intends to do what most college students would do – stay up all night Thursday night, and get pretty drunk. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled at the prospect of two long flights after no sleep and while drunk, but alas I’m now 32 and without the stamina of college students anymore.

I was trying to impart my travel wisdom to him during the drive, as he hasn’t been on an airplane since before 9/11 – get to Logan early, 6am departure means leave for Logan around 4am (from Waltham), security lines are surprisingly long early in the morning, no liquids, don’t look too drunk because they’ll deny you boarding, don't pack anything that will land you in a Mexican prison, etc. He mentioned that he's most concerned with waking up somewhere without one of his kidneys, leading me to believe that he watched too much Nip/Tuck this season.