Sunday, October 17, 2010

Merchandising

And may the scwartz be with you, Mr. Jackson. Wellington is nicknamed "Windy Welly" for obvious reasons. I'm sure this moniker was established a long time ago. In recent times the city has picked up a new title: "Wellywood". I don't have all the facts but the story goes something like this. Peter Jackson is from Wellington and shot the Lord of the Rings Trilogy throughout the whole of New Zealand. In the process he also created Weta Labs (or Workshop?), the high tech cinematic operation responsible for the fancy CGI's and costumes used in the films. The Weta Lab is here in Wellington and I have heard that this is where the stars of the movie based themselves throughout shooting. It is rumoured that sitings of Viggo Mortensen and Ian Mckellan drinking coffee in the local cafes were commonplace during that time period. The raging success of the movies put an international spotlight on New Zealand, and Wellington specifically, as an ideal location for shooting. Some other activity has taken place here since then(District 9/King Kong?), and it has now been dubbed "Wellywood".

So obviously, there has to be some way for the general public to enjoy Wellington's new found popularity in the film industry. Enter the Weta Cave. The Weta Cave is listed on http://www.wellington.co.nz/ as one of the top ten things to do in Wellington.  From their website:

Screen clipping taken: 10/16/2010, 11:31 PM

 It's listed as number 7. So according to this site there are only 6 other activities to participate in that are more enjoyable than visiting the Weta Cave. And if I had wheels I'd be a wagon.

The Cave has been on my Wellington activities list for several weeks now and as a mildly enthusiastic LOTR fan, I set high expectations for it. I arrived to find that it is nothing more than a gift shop. The entire facility is about 800 square feet. It boasts a "mini-museum" that is actually nothing more than a walk in closet sized cubby with a some replica swords and a bunch of figurines from the movie. There's a room that you can view a 20 minute featurette in, which I didn't even bother to stay for as I assume it doesn't show anything not released in the special edition DVD's (which I've owned since they came out). Everything else in the Weta Cave is for sale. To be fair I probably set my expectations too high. A couple of years ago I experienced the LOTR exibit at the Houston museum. Due to my consistent bashing of Houston, I feel obligated to take a moment here to recognize one of its finer assets. Houston does have a great set of museums not far from Rice University and the Medical Center that I frequented while living there. Anyway, the LOTR museum exhibit was phenomenal. It was absolutley massive and contained a smorgasboard of highly sought after paraphanaelia that was actually used in the movies. I half expected for most of this exhibit to now be housed permanently at the Weta Cave. I was way off, and more than a little disappointed. If this is the best "showcase" of Weta that Peter Jackson can offer to the public, then it is pretty damn weak. It's also preposterous for wellington.com to list this place as a destination. To walk every inch of the Cave takes all of three minutes. Even if I had viewed and appreciated every item in there I still would have been done in under an hour. It's a decent place to stop by if you are in that part of town, but surely not a somewhere that you need to plan a visit to.

Dig.
A couple years back a fellow music lover, whose opinion I value and trust, suggested I try listening to the Brian Jonestown Massacre. He also asked if I had seen the movie Dig. I told him that I had heard of BJM, but not Dig. He gave me a brief rundown of the movie and told me I should watch it and get the music. I proceeded to acquire the BJM album but didn't get around to watching the movie. Sometime after that I read a Rolling Stone article that listed the top rock doc dvd's of all time. The list was mostly standards that I would expect to see: Stop Making Sense, The Last Waltz, Woodstock, Festival Express; but the big surprise for me was seeing Dig listed in the top 5. Once again my interest was sparked but I still didn't run out and get the movie.
I finally rented the double disc DVD this weekend. Dig tells the story of the tumultuous relationship between two rock bands: The Dandy Warhols, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. But more importantly, it introduces the viewer to Anton Newcombe, frontman and co-creator of the BJM. I imagine that Anton Newcombe is what John Lennon would have been like if he hadn't been born in England and hadn't been in the biggest pop band of all time. He's an explosive egocentric character that keeps the viewer glued to his every move on screen. But's Anton is only half of the recipe that makes this a highly entertaining film. The rest comes from the sheer volume of raw footage that the movie is comprised of. Most rock docs are a series of live performances spliced together with recent interviews of various players associated with the subject. Dig was pieced together from over 1500 hours of amateur footage shot from the mid-nineties all the way through around 2002, I think. It's got all the good rock star scenes in it as well: the arrests, the fist-fights, the shouting matches, the road. And it's all pretty raw and uncut as well.  Dig easily lived up to all the hype that surrounds it and the beauty of it is that you don't need to really be a fan of either band to enjoy the movie.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

"And if we wake up in the morning,

.....then we'll know we're not dead." - Stan Marsch

It's a bleeding sin how much I love South Park.

Seriously?
Everyone has a little topic that can set them off. For some people it revolves around sports. For others it might be a politician or a celebrity. But I've noticed that in general if you hang around someone long enough, you can learn of one or two things to say to them that will send them into a frenzy. I'm no different than anyone else and have quite a few of these pressure points; and I got one of mine pounded a few weeks ago.

I was at a cook out, which they call bar-bees here, and having a conversation with what I thought was a very intelligent guy. We had already talked about the standard subjects mostly involving differences in our cultures: sports preferences, culinary contrasts, traffic laws. When he learned that I was from Louisiana he decided to start a conversation about Hurricane Katrina. He started to ask me some leading questions and I answered them neutrally as I usually do in these situations until I determine where the person is going with it. As I was answering one of his questions he abruptly interrupted me with this statement (word for word): "Oh no, that's not true, you see I watched this documentary, it was by Spike Lee, called When the Levees Broke and (interjects his "correct" statement that directly contradicts what I've been telling him). My jaw dropped. If I had been amongst close friends I would have immediately assumed that this was a prank. Kind of like "hey little sister go ask grandpa about the war and watch him get all fired up." I could easily envision a situation where a friend tells an innocent bystander "hey you see that guy Robert, go make some ridiculous claim to him and tell him your only source is a documentary by SPIKE FRIGGING LEE and watch him go through the roof." A small film of my own played in my mind in which I slapped the daylights out of this guy....But I quickly shoved my hand in my pocket, politely ended the conversation and walked away.

I got to thinking. I read every article that was printed about the hurricane before, during and after it occurred. I had friends who fled New Orleans sleeping on my couch in Houston. I bumped into the refugees at the Target by the Astrodome. I saw the pictures of the destroyed houses that belong to my Aunts. I took this in for months and a guy 6,000 miles away watches a 4 hour dvd by a director whose shining achievement is The Original Kings of Comedy and he has the brass to interject the answer to a question that he asked me? And let me be clear here. I have no problems with the documentary. I've never seen it, nor will I ever watch it. I don't think Spike Lee is a credible source to make a documentary about hurricanes or New Orleans. But I've gathered enough information from other credible sources that I don't need to watch this movie to speak on the subject. What really grinds my gears, is that this guy watched one documentary and accepted every single claim it made, as the gospel. Without question. Without reserve. It is downright scary to me to think about what people will believe if you put it in a movie. Gutted.

I was in the grocery store the day of the Tennessee game. I turned down the bread aisle and spotted the familiar burnt orange lone capital T on a grey hooded sweatshirt. I recognized it immediately and got excited. I've never seen an SEC supporter in New Zealand. I quickly walked up to the guy wearing the sweatshirt and asked him if it was for Tennessee. He seemed to get excited too and said yes. I slowly unzipped my jacket to reveal the purple jersey with LSU in big bright gold across the chest. He looked about as puzzled as a 5 year old with a child proof lighter. His words stung me "L (pause) S (hesitantly) U...what's that?". I didn't really know how to explain myself. I wanted to be like "What do you mean what's that? You don't know what LSU is, give me that sweatshirt! you don't deserve to wear it." I said "You know we played you guys today in football?" And of course he replied "Oh I lived in Tennessee for like six months and just bought a sweatshirt." Gutted.

On Saturday night I was in the Mighty Mighty bar and spotted a guy wearing the Hi How are you? t-shirt. It's a well known piece of graffiti art in Austin. Once again, i got really excited as a friend of mine had JUST sent me the excite same t-shirt in the mail a few weeks before. I briskly left the conversation I was in and marched up to the t-shirt guy. "Hey you from Austin?". Once again, completely puzzled. "Your shirt, it's an Austin, Texas t-shirt?" Spark of recognition (maybe). "Ugh, Oh yeah, I think I nicked this off a friend, I just thought it was a cool shirt." Mini-movie of me slapping him. Gutted.

And finally.....REDEMPTION. I went to Bunnings (NZ anemic version of Home Depot) to buy a shop vac. I asked one of the employees where I could find a shop vac, he helped me pick one out, we headed back to the cash register to complete the transaction. He commented about my accent and asked where I was from and to my surprise HIS eyes lit up with excitement when I said Louisiana.

Really?! What part? (he's excited and I'm intrigued as no one other than Americans ask what part of LA i'm from)
Baton Rouge
Really???!!! Did you go to school there? (now he's visibly excited, to the point that the other girl at the counter has started to eves drop)
Yeah, I went to and at this point he speaks the letters LSU in unison with me and pretty much goes through the roof.
"Aw man!! Were you there at the same time as Big Baby?"
Yeah I was, I actually have a picture of Big Baby standing outside of Walk On's with Shaq. I've also got a picture of me and Shaq together.
(the kid is practically turning cart wheels now) "Holy Shit!! Big Baby is my favorite basketball player in the NBA, he's pretty much my favorite player of all time, I freaking love that guy."
At this point I started to laugh. Here's a kiwi guy who's clearly a rabid NBA fan and his favorite player in the league is Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Not only is this his favorite player, but he knows where he went to college and what city it's in. This is truly commendable considering how difficult it is to be a fan of ANY American sport over here. This guy made my day. He didn't want me to leave the damn store. He was rattling off facts of Glen Davis, asking me questions about him. I've never seen anyone more excited to find out that I was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was laughing for the rest of the day about that conversation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blues for Breakfast, Gators for lunch

I like to listen to John Lee Hooker on Sunday mornings while cooking a monumental breakfast. This morning it was scrambled eggs with onions, spinach and cheese on toast. I got all of this down in time to watch the LSU-Florida game on my computer through the slingbox at my parents house. I'm more than grateful to view the game in any capacity. Seeing it live is far better than not seeing it at all. But it's difficult to watch LSU football on a computer, alone, on a Sunday afternoon. It just doesn't feel right. I need to find some college football fans in Wellington to share my pain. There are few things in life that give me more pleasure than seeing LSU beat Florida. Florida's players are classless assholes (holier than though Tim Tebow being the glaring exception) and Urban Meyer is a wormy little shell of a man. Florida fans - even worse. I relished every minute of the Tigers 33-29 victory. I guess Tiger fans back home can afford to bitch and moan about Les Miles, Gary Crowton and Jordan Jefferson. From my perspective, they don't know just how damn lucky they are.

Mighty Mighty.
My tantalizing live music drought finally came to an end last night. I accompanied my room mate, Luke, who plays in a local band, to The Mighty Mighty. Located on the ever popular Cuba Street in downtown Wellington, Mighty Mighty is a quirky small sized live music venue that showcases mostly national and local acts. The two bands that played probably won't find their way onto my ipod anytime soon. Both had a garage rock sound with clear punk and grunge influences. But it was so very invigorating to hear original music again. Where I lacked enthusiasm in the actual music itself I found great enjoyment in the atmosphere of the venue.

Picture here we see a Vanilla Ice EP vinyl record sleeve. Opening it reveals the beer, wine and cocktails menu appended to the inside of the album cover. I would have photographed this, as well as the replica of the genie machine from Big, the fake palm trees sprinkled throughout the dancefloor area and the giant four foot disco ball, had my stupid iphone's camera feature stopped working.

As expected, a joint this peculiar is bound to attract some rogue patrons, creating quite possibly the most humorous people watching situation I've ever encountered. I was literally giggling out loud every time I turned my head in this bar at the ridiculous clothes, hairstyles and antics that I saw. But the patrons of Mighty Mighty were not pretentious or snobby. They didn't appear to desire attention, but were generally just having fun doing what they were doing. I left feeling sure that this would be a place I'd return to frequently.

It's better Live.

While I got a small dose of live music to reintroduce it to my system last night, the super sized value meals are now close on the 2011 horizon. Big Day Out will be a nice return to an outdoor music festival in Auckland in January.
http://www.bigdayout.com/home.php
I'm thrilled to see long time favorites John Butler and the Black Keys, who both have new albums to perform for me. And I'll get to see Edward Sharpe, Grinderman, Wolfmother, CSS, and Ratatat for the first time. Hopefully Andrew WK's plane will crash on the way to the event.

But the real prize, the one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up and that I'm absolutely salivating for is the Byron Bay Blues Festival in April.
http://www.bluesfest.com.au/
This is a five day festival where most artists PLAY TWICE. I've never heard of any festivals in the states adopting this policy, although the ticket prices certainly warrant more than two shows from some of these so-called headliners. A quick look at the previous lineups has me buzzing at the possibilities for this festival.

My big bad Byron Bay wish list:

Personal favorites that I'm pining for:
Grace Potter. Gov't Mule. Levon Helm. Delta Spirit. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The Band of Heathens. Leftover Salmon. Yeasayer. Robert Randolph. Shooter Jennings. Porter Batiste Stolz. Dumpstaphunk. The New Mastersounds. My Morning Jacket. Railroad Earth. The Felice Brothers.

I've never seen them live so it would be really special:
Nick Lowe. The Derek Trucks Band. Phil Lesh in some form (The Dead, Further, etc). Joe Cocker. The Cave Singers. Stringcheese. Kenny Wayne Shepard. Joe Bonamassa. Cat Power. Lou Reed. Hot Tuna. Arcade Fire. Black Mountain. Steve Winwood. Mark Knopfler. Neil Young. Papa Mali.

I'll go ape shit:
John Hiatt. JJ Cale.


Melbs.

A coffee shop on Smith Street in Melbourne
Speaking of Australia, I got to visit the land down under a few weeks ago for the first time. Leaving New Zealand made me realize that the year 2010 is going to completely pass without me ever setting foot on American soil. This is a weird thought to get my arms around. Anyway, I spent about 6 days in Melbourne, Australia but really only had about a day and half to myself in the city. Melbourne is a true big city and I've not visited one since Auckland, which really doesn't count. So for all intensive purposes this was my first venture into a metropolis since the last time I was in the armpit of Texas, otherwise known as Houston in the common tongue. The size was overwhelming at first but I quickly got over this as I became re associated with A DEVELOPED NATION!!! High Speed Internet, reasonably priced food, IMAX theaters, four lane highways, stadium sized shopping malls, skyscrapers. Being in Melbourne was seriously like being back in the states and I tried to overdose on it while I was there.

From the Lonely Planet:
"Sophisticated and slick, edgy and rough, Melbourne’s physical and cultural landscape is shaped by a dynamic population, ever-ravenous for a bite of global culture. The result is Australia’s most accessible multiculturalism. Ornate Victorian-era architecture and leafy, established boulevards reflect the city’s history, and cutting-edge developments such as Federation Sq exemplify its enigmatic contemporary style. But, Melburnians still keep their urban frenzy to a deliciously sedate pace. Trams lumber back and forth on routes radiating out like spokes from central Melbourne, and cycling is a common way to get from.
Character-filled neighbourhoods, such as Fitzroy, St Kilda and Carlton, hum with life and the city produces some of the best art, music, cuisine, fashion, performance, design and ideas in the world. Melburnians are also devoted to their sport and they go ballistic around the Australian Football League (AFL; ‘footy’ to the locals) finals and during Spring Racing Carnival. They love to shop, eat and attend the myriad festivals that the city offers. You’ll even find them defending the city’s temperamental weather, and if you’ve ever experienced Melbourne’s inclination to plummet from searing heat to drizzling rain in the space of an hour, you’ll understand that this must be the true definition of unconditional love."

The AFL championship match was being played the Saturday that I was in town but I could not be bothered with this as I spent the entire day at Melbourne Central attempting to transform my wardrobe from Patagonia-sporting-backpacker to young semi-professional. I heard that the game actually ended in some kind of draw and would have to be replayed the following weekend, adding firmly to my ongoing case that international sports suck. I spent most of my free time in the Fitzroy area which is way to hip for me. I'm actually able to get away with walking through these places because the hipsters see my disheveled hair and an old sweatshirt and think that maybe I'm a little edgy. They don't realize that I'm too lazy to do anything with my hair and I wear the sweatshirt because I really am that cold. I liked the Fitzroy neighborhood because it was peppered with great record shops, book stores, and coffee bars.

Ya Heard.

Having relocated to Wellington, and recently visited Australia; I've observed some new slang that I hadn't noticed before. I strive on a daily basis to not change the way that I speak, but it is infectiously interesting to study different people's speech patterns.

"Aw True." This appears to be a unique kiwi phrase and it is used as a verbal confirmation of having received a particular message during a conversation. For example:

             Denise: "What did you guys get up to last night?"
             Me: "We went to Mighty Mighty and saw some bands."
             Denise: "Aw True"

I can't think of an American equivalent other than just saying "yeah".

"Gutted". I think this might be English in origin. It's hard to tell where the different catch phrases come from because english travellers tend to adopt kiwi slang and vise versa. They essentially use it to express (or over express) devastation.

             Luke: "They revoked my visa. I was gutted."

Once again, no obvious American equivalent other than maybe to say "I was devastated or I was pissed". And with that I should note that when they say "I was pissed" over here, it means "I was drunk" and not "I was very angry."

"Easy Peezy." This is a strange one indeed. It's used to express that some act is easy to accomplish. I would think it would only be used by middle aged kiwi moms or cheesy kiwi dads.......BUT......One of my new work tasks is to get the phone and internet situated at our new facility. When I asked a sales rep how difficult it would be to upgrade the proposed digital phone system to a full blown voice over IP system he replied:

                 Sales Rep: "Oh that would be easy. Easy Peezy."

Here's a funny video of guy doing a bunch of different accents. I've heard all of the british accents and he is spot on with each one.




Here's a link to a god awful New Zealand bank commercial that seriously has me considering a career change to a television writer.

http://comms.nationalbank.co.nz/places/index.html?pid=mkt-hb-hp-sep10-theplacesyou'llgo(banner2)

Rock on Mike.
 Date: Fri, 8 Oct 2010 23:18:35 -0500

We left dad on night duty last night. And since he has a snoring problem, the poor nurse had two patients. Michael was waving his arms - as much as you can when they are tied to the bed - like he was trying to tell dad to shut the hell up. Needless to say, dads job on night duty has been terminated. Effective IMMEDIATELY.
While chatting with Mike this morning, I asked if he remembered dad's snoring and he shook his head no. You know why? Because he wants to keep his position as the favorite in the family. I am pretty sure he will forever hold that title. But I am coming to terms with it today. I think he has earned it.
The ventilator settings are now reduced to where he is initiating the breathing on his own with the support from the ventilator. The doctors only intended to try this out for a couple of hours but Mike had other plans. He passed their test and we are leaving the settings the way they are! His blood gases are great which has allowed them to go from doing a blood test every 6 hours to once a day. They are slowly decreasing the sedation medicine which is allowing him to open his eyes - and to do a some grooving. I have a little Buddy Guy on for him right now - one of our favorites. Since his liver enzymes were elevated this morning, they did an ultrasound - we will receive the results tomorrow. He has been holding a normal temp for the past 15 hours. We are trucking right along.
Today I had happy tears for the first time since I have been here. Happy tears because I know there are people that love Michael as much as I do, happy because he tried to dance with me, happy because he has the most amazing nurse anyone could ask for and happy because today, I FINALLY feel with all of my being that he is going to make it.
I am eternally indebted to all of you for the prayers. It is because of ya'll that I will be allowed to spend more time on this earth with Michael.
More good news to come tomorrow.
Love to everyone,
Jen

Thanks to everyone for thinking about Michael.

Geaux Tigers!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mr. October

I was hit with a sharp pang of guilt and disgust on the first of October. At some point during the day, I realized that October had in fact officially arrived; and I did not have the slightest clue as to which teams were in the MLB playoffs. Such a shame. A lifetime spent as a baseball fan, only to completely lose touch due to something as simple as a proximity challenge.

I've been told that this time of year brings the strongest winds to Wellington and I don't have any problems buying that. It is generally agreed upon that the south island is colder than the north. Queenstown has a reputation for being exceptionally cold. However, I've been more uncomfortably cold in Wellington than I ever was in Queenstown.....due to the wind. In Queenstown, the temperature determined how many layers of clothing I would put on. If I gauged this figure correctly, then I would be fine. Once I got outside and started walking, I'd warm up, my clothing would retain the heat and if I didn't stop moving for too long, I could stay outside for as long as I liked. In Wellington, I can put on every piece of clothing that I own, step outside and sprint up the hill until I'm sweating bullets, and a big fat gust of wind will cut right through all of that and chill me to the bone. Instantly. This can occur 24 hours a day. It is deceptive as well. Sometimes I look outside and see a beautiful blue sunny sky and think "hell yeah, t-shirts and shorts" only to walk outside and have a hurricane force gale bitch slap me in the face. All of this wind is balanced out on a truly sunny, still, clear day in Wellington, which is absolutely stunning. I enjoy these about twice a week and when those days come I try to stretch them out like an ice cream sundae, savoring every minute.

5 Things I really miss about the Fall back home:

5. Skirts on gameday
4. The perfectly executed tailgating operation
3. Spending hours creating the perfect ACL schedule, only to completely abandon it the next day and make it up as i go along
2. frozen margaritas with salt chunks the size of diamonds on outdoor patio at sunset
1. Cursing the yankees (and joe buck)

5 Things I love about Wellington in the spring

5. Mistakingly thinking that I'll be able to swim in the vast amount of water that surrounds me
4. Taking a stroll along the southern walkway and rock hopping within 10 feet of a fat sunbathing seal
3. Drinking coffee or beer on the harbour watching the runners go by
2. Running through the harbor watching people drink coffee and beer
1. the elusive perfect day

The Face of a Fighter
Some people pray. Some people meditate. Some people light candles in churches. Some people hope. And some people simply strive for positive intentions. Whatever it is that you do, please do it for my friend Michael.



"It is 10:30 on Wednesday night and Michael and I are having a slumber party. He is sleeping like a baby while I am sitting here watching the monitors like a hawk. Blood pressure looks great, heart rate is good and the paralytic medicine is a thing of the past.
Last week Mike was not feeling good so he went to the doctor and was sent home with a shot. His fever never broke so he headed to the hospital Sunday night hoping to get a drip and be on his way. God had another plan. He was admitted to the ICU around 6 Monday morning with pneumonia in all four quadrants of his lungs and was immediately set up with an oxygen mask. I had a really good feeling when I left the hospital that night that things were going to be ok. Unfortunately, his breathing quickly deteriorated around 4:00 Tuesday morning which only meant one thing. A ventilator.
By 7:30 it was in place and he was on a paralytic drug - meaning he had no control of anything. Not even his breathing. Scary? Words can't describe. The best thing for him? Absolutely. The first ventilator that he had was doing the maximum work it could and his breathing spiraled out of control. It is never good when a nurse tells you she is scared. But she had to be honest. The doctor was called in immediately to put in a more effecient ventilator - why wasn't this done in the first place? Because they had no idea he was THIS SICK. He took to the new ventilator very well and his levels began to even out. When it was first in place, it was at 100% capacity with 24 breaths per minute. Right now we are at 50% capacity with only 10 breaths per minute. We are taking PO2 levels every 6 hours to see what needs to be adjusted. The past several tests have come back great but they do not want to be too aggressive and adjust things too fast for fear of shocking his body. Our ultimate goal is to let him help the ventilator breathe - starting with him taking one breath per minute while the ventilator takes 9 for him.
During all of this, he has also developed ARDS or Adult Respiratoy Distress Syndrome which is a very serious condition that complicates the pneumonia. He is on 3 of the strongest antibiotics made and the doctors are still growing cultures to pinpoint exactly what is going on so we can become more focused on what we need to treat. These cultures are taking a bit longer to grow because doctors believe the shot he received on Saturday is masking the real cause of the pneumonia.
His condition improved significantly today. He was weened from the paralytic drug - he fought it at first but seems to be responding very well. He opened his eyes for me earlier and squeezed my hand. We have received good reports from a very reserved doctor. However, he tells us that Michael will have a long road to a full recovery.
Both his nurse and doctor have provided extraordinary care and concern. He has a nurse dedicated to his care alone. Sitting in here day and night.
Words cannot describe the love and support we feel. I sit by the bed and tell him who all has called, emailed, send text messages. Every one of your names has been mentioned. I promise. And he can hear me. I just know it. He is fighting like hell for all of you and i KNOW he will not disappoint.
Please continue to pray for this battle Michael is fighting and for his strength. Please also keep our family in your prayers. We have been on an emotional roller coaster this week searching for answers.
I know i don't have everyone's email address, so please pass along to others.

Love to everyone.


Jennifer and Lacy"

Jennifer is Michael's sister and Lacy his girlfriend.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oops

http://www.news.com.au/world/conservative-uk-politician-sobs-after-wife-exposed-as-prostitute/story-e6frfkyi-1225914671565

Questions to add to the standard first date repertoire: How do you feel about prostitution?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Taupo the morning to ya

If there was a guiness world record for the most times the phrase "oh my god" was heard in a 24 hour period; I would hold that record. I reached this milestone by taking three irish women on a road trip to Lake Taupo to embark on a 15,000 ft tandem skydive. When I have a one to one conversation with any of my three irish friends, I can understand them perfectly. When the three of them are speaking with each other, the rate at which they produce words triples and it is completely incoherent. This is hysterically funny to listen to as it basically consists of a series of outbursts, laughter, oh my god's, and cuss words. There was so much cussing I felt like I was in a Martin Scorsese movie. I find it ironic that the phrase "oh my god" has become so commonplace in english conversation that it has absolutely no relationship to religion anymore. I hear the words uttered all the time by Christians and atheists alike. It's also blindingly obvious that this phrase is used exponentially more by girls than guys. If I was an ambitious linguistics scholar I would be publishing a paper titled OMG.


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I have never spoken to someone who has been skydiving before and was not absolutely through the roof for it. Conjure up about 100 synonyms for the word amazing and that's how people describe skydiving. And all those people are undeniably correct. A friend told me once, that jump guides are trained to make the entire experience as process oriented as possible. The idea is to keep the tandem diver involved in everything other thinking about what they are about to do. So as soon as I met the guy I was to jump with he had me completely preoccupied with small tasks all the way up until the point that we fell out of the plane. Stand here. Put this on. Look at the camera. Walk over here. Sit there. There was no down time. No time to get scared. And surprisingly, I didn't get scared or nervous....until the first two jumpers took off at 12,000 feet. (We had paid an extra $100 for the maximum 15,000 ft.) Skydiving was nothing like I had imagined it in my head. I always pictured a huge plane, with plenty of room. I imagined myself getting up and walking to a giant door and actually jumping out of into the sky. Turns out, I was not even close. We piled onto a tiny plane, which had been cleverly painted pink. We sat on a bench Indian style, each guide behind there prospective jumper. I was to be the third jumper out of our group of four. When it was my turn my guide just shoved me forward to the end of the bench and onto the floor. There was no decision making on my point. I was going where this guy was pushing me whether I wanted to or not. As soon as I got near the small opening in the plane the most powerful wind I've ever experienced smashed me in the face and I became immediately paralyzed with fear. I could not hear, speak, move or think. If I could have processed a thought, I probably would have worried about my heart beating a whole in my chest before bursting wide open. When my guide pushed me to the edge of the plane and my feet fell out into the air the impossible happened - I got even more scared. At this point I was certain that I was just going to die right there. There was no way that a person could experience that kind of tension on every muscle in their body and every fiber in there brain and not instantly expire. Before I could shove this guy back in the plane and demand that we land immediately, we fell out of the plane. We didn't jump. We didn't scoot off the edge. We just toppled off the side. At this point I felt the most incredible speed I have ever felt in my life. I am certain I have never moved that fast in my life. It was spellbinding. I continued to remain absolutely paralyzed in fear. For the first few seconds of the fall I didn't scream or smile or frown or do anything but remain completely astonished at what was happening. I was able to follow the instructor's commands; moving my arms when told to. Eventually, a little smidgen of the fear subsided and I looked out over Lake Taupo and tried to scream. Nothing really came out. The wind was blowing so hard that the skin on my face was being stretched all over the place. As soon as opened my mouth I inhaled this wind and uttered a barely audible screech. After a few seconds I realized that I was being filmed and tried to make some memorable faces for the camera. The free fall seemed to last forever. I've watched skydiving videos before and always thought that skydivers looked like they are just casually floating around in the air. But it doesn't feel like floating at all. It actually feels completely unnatural. The human body was not made to travel that fast.

Eventually, the guide instructed me to pull my arms in and all the sudden I felt a hard thrust upwards as the parachute filled with air and drastically decreased our speed. My harness actually left a bruise on my legs from the back lash. The landing was almost as scary as the free fall. It was eerily quiet and still hanging from the parachute and I was certain that at any moment I would hear a snap and we'd be falling again. It was during the free fall that my guide informed me that the camera strapped to his hand that he had been filming me with had crapped out. I was not evenly remotely upset about this. The adrenalin was still flowing like a river through my body and nothing could have phased me at that point. We spun around in the air a little bit before landing in a field where the Irish ladies were screaming.....Oh my god.

Of all the extreme sports New Zealand has to offer, I can understand why skydiving is so popular. Unlike the bungee jump, the decision to execute is taken out of the participants hand. And unlike canyoning, river surfing, and white water rafting the participant does not need to be even remotely physically fit. Basically, just show up and get on the plane and rest is done by someone else. It's definitely the quickest way to spend hundreds of dollars, but well worth it.


Monday, September 6, 2010

The wino and I know

I arrived in Wellington on August 10th to thrust myself into a full blown job searching effort. By Saturday August 14th I was taking off for a road trip. Hawkes Bay is one of the most popular north island destinations in New Zealand and luckily within driving distance from Wellington. I'm not sure exactly what constitutes Hawkes Bay, but I knew that Napier is one of the main towns. I also knew that the region is popular for its vineyards and wineries. The lonely planet provides more insightful information:

"You don’t have to be particularly cultured to enjoy Napier but you might find its passion for architecture and fine wine surprisingly contagious. Before long you’ll be blathering on about the Chicago School, Mayan decorative devices and ‘hints of passionfruit on the palate’ with the best of them.

The Napier of today is the silver lining of the dark cloud that was NZ’s worst natural disaster. Rebuilt after the deadly 1931 earthquake in the popular styles of the time, the city retains a unique concentration of Art-Deco buildings. Architecture obsessives flock here from all over the world and the town milks it for all it’s worth. Don’t expect the Chrysler Building – Napier’s Art Deco is resolutely low-rise – but you will find intact 1930s streetscapes which can provoke a Great Gatsby swagger in the least romantic soul.


For the layperson it’s a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent English seaside resort about it."


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A buddy of mine spent the summer in Napier and enjoyed working on a winery but advised that the town was completely dead at night. He was not lying. Napier is definitely more a summer destination and after soaking up sunny skies driving out of Wellington, I endure a steady dark rain for pretty much the rest of the weekend.


A little cold rain would not stop me from having an enjoyable trip. I arrived in Napier to be immediately reminded of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; a regular get-away destination of my youth. Napier is a small coastal town with lots of beach side motel and restaurants. And like Bay St. Louis it has some unique characteristics that give it a colorful identity. This was showcased at the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, where I met Collin, an American friend who was doing a quick backpacking tour of New Zealand. The hostel was spacious and like the rest of Napier, empty.

On Sunday morning we asked the lone hostel employee about doing a winery tour and provided the phone number to Grape Escape. I called and we agreed to be picked up outside the hostel at 1:00. This was my first wine tour and it turned out to be a delightful experience. Our tour guide picked us up as promised in a minivan and after gathering two more backpackers from another hostel we were off to our first vineyard. Throughout the day I repeatedly confirmed something that I was already pretty sure about - I don't care for white wines, I like red wines, and I love desert wines. And this was the general serving sequence at each winery. We would taste two to three whites (usually pinot gris and chardonnay), two to three reds (pinot noirs and the regional favorite syrah) and a desert wine. Most of the wineries featured newly constructed modern style buildings that were pleasing to the eye. I felt uncharacteristically stylish sipping wine in these establishments. Upon each arrival we were met with a cheery host who shared lots of interesting facts about their organizations' history and products. I learned more about wine in one day than I had in my entire life. The most interesting bit of information I picked up was that Paul Giamatti's little outburst in Sideways actually had a devastating effect on the sale of Merlot. To my amusement I also learned that the wine that he drinks in the burger joint in the movie is actually......a Merlot. Go figure.


At one of the last wineries we visited, I decided to buy some of the delicious chocolates that we had sampled there. Wanting to have enough to share with my friends back in Wellington, I was contemplating how much to buy when the wine tour guide instructed me not to worry about bringing the Napier chocolate home, but to stop in Greytown at Shoc and get the good stuff there. I took him up on his tip and ended up finding my own little slice of heaven. Shoc produces homemade chocolates in the widest range of flavors I have ever seen; 60 different flavors for their bar chocolates! These include the likes of Lemon and Cracked Pepper, Smoke Paprika, Limechili, and Dark Chocolate with sea salt. I'm not exaggerating when I say these were the most full flavored chocolates I had ever tasted. They blew Godiva out of the water. I ended up spending more money in 10 minutes at the chocolate store than I did in 5 hours visiting 8 wineries. I also realized I had missed my life's calling when I learned that their is such a thing as a Chocologist.
http://www.schoc.co.nz/index.php?main_page=index

While the two days in Napier certainly don't rank high on my most memorable NZ road trips, I really did enjoy all the fine wine and chocolates and I surely will return to Hawkes Bay in the summer.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Earthquake

An earthquake occurred in Christchurch this morning around 4:30 a.m. I was not affected by it and was unaware of it until I received a text from my parents this morning. The media has not reported any deaths or serious injuries, but they have reported incidents of looting. The anchorman's statement went something like this "there have been reports of looting and the police have issued a statement advising people not to loot." I can imagine how that conversation went down:

Officer 1: "We just got a call, people are looting."
Chief: "What! They shouldn't be doing that, that's just wrong."
Officer 1: "What should we do?"
Chief: "I saw this once when I was rookie, we should tell them to stop looting."
Officer 1: "Brilliant!! I'll call a press conference!!"

This morning's earthquake registered a 7.4 on the richter scale. I was dissappointed to learn that wikipedia does not report the richter scale measurement for the famous earthquake game. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_Game

This is a rare instance of wikipedia letting me down. I've never been involved in an earthquake and am embarrassed to say I'm not even sure what I would do if one occurred. In February, I was sitting at a U shaped bar in Winnie's having a drink with some friends when the bar starting violently shaking. I looked down to see someone at the other end of the table telling an animate story and I thought he just been shaking supports of the bar. I learned a couple of days later that it had actually been a tremor.

I kind of wish I had paid more attention to that Saved by the Bell episode when Zach and Tory go over exactly how one is supposed to respond in an earthquake. I should probably find that on youtube so I can be prepared. In the meantime, I think I'll head down to Christchurch and pick up a new flatscreen....wait, no they said not to do that. Good thing I watched the news this morning.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Crossing

As my friends have left New Zealand they have often given me things that they could not take with them on their departures. One of my friends happened to give me a worn paperback book; a copy of Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt. I had never heard of the book and was not immediately interested in it (the tag line reads "A true story of the Austrian incest case that shocked the world). I became intrigued when I noticed that a business card sized piece of paper had been taped to the front cover of the book. The card had an illustration of a book with arms and legs that appears to be running and the following text:

"I'm a very special book. You see, I'm traveling around the world making new friends. I hope I've met another friend in you. Please go to www.bookcrossing.com and enter my BCID number (shown below). You'll discover where I've been and who has read m, and can let them know I'm safe here in your hands. Then....READ and RELEASE me!"

This is one of the coolest concepts I've ever come across. And I've never had a book be so friendly and personal towards me. I logged on to the site hoping to find that my book was an accomplished traveller and had been all over the world. I was disappointed to find that it only had one previous reader, who left the book on a bench in Queesntown Gardens. I think I'm going to leave it at the Wellington airport when I'm through and try to get it out of the country. I won't be able to start this book until I finish The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, but after I read and release it I will be able to track it at this link http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8011016

I had amassed a small collection of paperbacks in Queenstown but per the standard operating procedure I gave them to friends before I left. I'm definitely going to take the handful I brought with me and start them on world wide journeys.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Girl

I bought my first ipod at some point in 2005 and it came with a free subscription to Audible.com. For a few months I received free digital downloads of audiobooks from a nice sized library of selections. After that I paid a reasonable monthly fee to keep the books coming and was able to build a nice collection. I lost interest when it was time to renew the committment after the first year, but reactivated my audible account before I left the states to download some material for the long flights and travels ahead. While perusing the material available from audible I found The Girl with Dragon Tattoo under the most popular downloads page. I'm pretty sure it was number one actually. This was pretty much a no brainer for me as I'm a big fan of girls, tattoos and dragons so I downloaded it without any knowledge of what I was getting into.

I first started listening to GWDT in Auckland and found that it was narrated by an older man with a heavy swedish accent. It was a little bit difficult to listen to and I kept falling asleep in the first chapter. I switched to Phil Lesh's autobiography and didn't think about the girl for a while. In Queenstown, I was given a paperback copy of The Girl who Played with Fire by a travelling American who was passing through. She only relinqueshed the book to me when I promised her that I would actually read it. So I made myself get through the first chapter of the dragon tattoo. Once I finished it I couldn't stop. I'm wore my headphones for three days straight listening to that book and it did not come close to putting me to sleep. It was reminiscent of the first times I read Jurassic Park, The Firm and The Da Vinci Code. I blazed through played with fire and after a short break in the trilogy I'm now halfway through The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

The Girl story is everything that it's hyped up to be. A truly original and thrilling crime drama that puts the reader in a choke hold from the very beginning and doesn't let up. The late Stieg Larrsonn's villains are as dreadful as I could possibly imagine, but his genius shines through in his protagonists. Michael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are hardly a stereotypical hero and heroine. They come packed with character flaws and failures. Blomkvist is a terrible father who sleeps around. Lisbeth smokes, cusses, and sets her father on fire. This couple is a far cry from Robert Langdon and Sophie Last Sion. Larsson's characters are believable and act more human than typical novel characters. This comes alive in the film version of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If this movie had been made in the states it would have starred Brad Pitt, or Leonardo DiCaprio or whoever else is commanding 30 million dollars a picture these days. Lisbeth would have been played by Kristen Stewart or Anne Hatheway or Miley Cyrus and there would be rumblings of academy awards. The swedish version with english subtitles keeps things simple and in doing so creates a powerful movie. With the exception of The Godfather, it is probably the closest book to movie conversion I've ever seen. Looks like I'll be back at the theater tomorrow seeing the girl who played with fire and then counting down the days until the final film is released.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Take along some of your favorite things, cause you're gonna need em

I don't have to pull up the blog post I created last December when I arrived in Queenstown. I remember most of what I said. Queenstown is beautiful, you can walk everywhere, the bars never close, the sun never sets, everyone has a pet unicorn, and so it goes. I don't retract any of my statements. Queenstown IS one of the most beautiful places on the planet and you can walk everywhere and the bars never close. The sun does set a lot earlier in the winter. In leaving Queenstown, I feel like I need to add some clarity to my writing. Queenstown is not unlike a barbie doll. Physically and aesthetically, it is perfect, in every way. But just like Barbie, Queenstown has no intellectual substance. It has no identity or defining characteristic (except of course for the beautiful scenery). Queenstown breeds instant gratification. It's a whorehouse; a place for international travellers to arrive, get their kicks, and leave in a hurry, tired and broke. And the inhabitants of Queenstown reflect this mentality. Ask a typical Queenstown resident who they are, where they've been and where they are going and you are likely to get a blank stare. Ask the same person how much they had to drink last night and you'll get a 5 minute uninterrupted monologue.

I embraced this culture for a long time. I'm all about instant gratification. Hell, who isn't? Is pizza not the ultimate instant gratifcation. I mean can you think of anything else that is so pleasing when you consume it and provides absolutely no value whatsoever after the fact? But after 8 months, I'm ready to expand my societal requirements. I need better live music than the GC's covering "Sex on Fire" every Thursday night. I want a better cheeseburger than Fergberger has to offer. I think I can handle a little bit more in depth conversation that goes outside of the number of times someone rode through the ski park. And for heaven's sake if the Buffalo Club is the best night life that Queenstown has to offer, I am certain there are other bars in the country that can do better.

Alas, here I go again......bashing, ripping, thrashing my beloved Queenstown. I really do have a talent for bitching. Of course I can't project all this negative generalization on the entire town. I met some amazing people in Queenstown and formed lifelong friendships with some of them....Or at least they have the potential to be lifelong friendships. My two roommates certainly have intellectual substance and don't deserved to be grouped into the barbie doll category. Same thing goes for my old boss and a handful of the Winnie's staff who I will certainly miss. Those people really went out of there way to give me a proper send off and I won't forget it anytime soon. But as a whole, Queenstown is plastic and while everyone loves a good barbie doll, I think I'll go searching for one who talks.

Flash forward to Wellington, where I arrived on the 10th of August. The two most common phrases associated with Wellington are "windy" and "cafe culture". I know what wind feels like and I can't contradict this association. The wind is powerful and mighty in Wellington. I'm learning more about the cafe culture as I go along. I haven't had the word "hipster" pop into my head since I lived in Austin, but I find it very applicable in Wellington. The capital city of New Zealand is highly cultured and diverse. While I'm already missing the simplicity of living in a place the size of Queenstown, I can't deny it is good to be back in a medium sized city. With the exception of outdoor activities, Wellington offers alot more ways to spend my time and money. There's a stage adaptation of the Great Gatsby playing as well as the ongoing tour of the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra (http://www.ukulele.co.nz/). I plan on attending both. I'm not entirely convinced that the people of Wellington are all that different from those of Queenstown. These barbie dolls are just dressed in thousand dollar plus suits and scowling into blackberries as quickly shuffle through the CBD. Either that, or they spent 200 dollars at some trendy clothing store to appear as though they bought their entire wardrobe at a thrift store, so they can be the coolest person sipping a triple shot latte outside the coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon. So where do I fit into this big pot of gumbo? Who knows? But I'm sure i'll enjoy trying to figure it out.

The Happy Wanderer likes:
  • Inception - It appears that Christopher Nolan can do no wrong. He's created a directing style that is fresh and provides intense entertainment. He uses the same formula in all his movies, but yet it never feels like you are watching something that's been repeated, like a Guy Ritchie movie. While Inception is not nearly as good as The Dark Knight, it's a solid movie that kept me completely engaged from start to finish.
  • Band of Horses - Compliments - Every Band of Horses album has one song that is heads and shoulders better than the rest of them. This is the song from there latest album. http://vimeo.com/11838229 
  • The new Arcade Fire album The Suburbs. Arcade Fire cannot be put into a genre because nobody else sounds quite like them. They don't skip a beat in delivering their third killer album in a row.
The crusty cynic bitches:
  • Do I really have to take Shia Lebouf seriously? I mean Michael Douglas reprises one of the greatest cinematic characters of all time to share the screen with the transformers kid. Give me a break.
  • "I just looooooove Robert Downey, Jr." Ummm, no you don't. You really liked the Iron Man movies and Sherlock Holmes. But you haven't even seen A Scanner Darkly or Wonder Boys. You like popcorn flicks like everyone else.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Brothers

I started listening to The Black Keys around 2006, I asked a friend if he had heard of the band. His response went something like this: "yeah, I've heard them, I don't really like them though, they sound like a White Stripes rip-off". I was appalled. Numb-skull statements of this fashion are my inspiration to write about music. If that is the best that people can come up with, I think i can offer a little bit more constructive thinking to the topic.

Brothers is the sixth studio offering by the musical duo of drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach from Akron, Ohio, released on Nonesuch Records. The Keys sound has clearly evolved from early efforts like 2003's Thickfreakness which was characterized by the simple formula of heavy drumming and raw guitar licks. Much like 2008's Attack and Release, this album bears all the elements of refined production. It is peppered with backing female vocals, organs, xylophones, sound effects, and most songs have a distinct bass line. Simplicity is still the key ingredient to the Black Keys sound, but they've added some nice layers to create an album that built more on finesse rather than raw power.

The album opens to the steady rhythm of "Everlasting Light" and features Dan singing a high pitched harmony backed by a female vocalist. The next three tracks provide the definite high point of the album starting with the anthemic "Next Girl". Danger Mouse, who produced Attack and Release, returns to produce "Tighten Up" and his influence is obvious. The opening whistling sounds could easily have been ripped from a Gnarls Barkly album. "Tighten Up" also highlights Patrick's distinct drumming ability. Like "Next Girl", "Howlin For You" features the Keys at their best: a simple guitar riff on top of a foot-stomping drum beat plus Dan singing about the pains of a woman. The album takes a nice change of pace with the bluesy instrumental "Black Mud" and returning to high pitch vocals and adding the organs to "The Only One."  "Ten Cent Pistol" drops the heavy distortion sound for some distinct guitar picking but then brings it right back for the I'm-a-bad-boy track "Sinister Kid". The last four songs are somewhat disappointing as the album just kind of mellows out and trickles off. They are still good tunes, "Never gonna Give you up" has a motown sound to it and "These Days" is a solid effort to close the album. But there isn't a real rocker in the second half.

As a whole, I'm very pleased with the latest release from The Black Keys. The trend in rock these days is side projects, dipping your little musical fingers into other sugar jars outside of your primary group, and Patrick and Dan seem to be on board with this philosophy. Dan released a successful solo album in 2009 and Patrick organized a collaborative effort in which he played bass in a band called drummer. The two joined forces with several hip-hop artists to release Blakroc, an interesting album that attempted to integrate rock with rap. The live shows to support this album should be great as the Keys revert back to the drums/guitar only sound without all the support of a recording studio. It will be interesting to hear how they interpret their new recording on stage and I relish the opportunity to find out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Influence

I've spent the last several minutes studying a picture on the July page of a calendar on my wall. It is a portrait of Town Lake in Austin, Texas with the night sky lit up by fireworks. The focal point is a statue of the great Stevie Ray Vaughn.The late virtuoso guitarist is universally known for reviving blues music in the 80's during a time when synth pop, hair bands, and punk rock dominated the air waves. He helped shine a light on his hero, Albert King, by displaying his music for a new generation of blues fans. In the same way that studying Eric Clapton turned me on to Robert Johnson, reading about SRV made me an Albert King fan. The picture is moving to me because it illustrates how cool and original Austin, Texas is. There are not very many statues that I've seen that really stick out in my mind, but I'll never forget the one of Stevie, in his trademark Mexican poncho and Josey Wales style cowboy hat, sitting on the waters' edge of town lake. Although I would not make the discovery until well after his death, Stevie had a lot of influence on one of my passions.

Before I started writing, I quickly took a glance at ESPN.com. I try to do this on a regular basis to keep up with news in the world of sports, but it ends up happening quite infrequently. I was stunned to see that George Steinbrenner had passed away. Here is another man who had great influence on another one of my passions. As an owner, I think most fans generally loved or hated Steinbrenner. But the one quality he commanded from pretty much everyone in baseball was respect. Like Stevie with the blues, George breathed life into an American pastime: the New York Yankees. But George succeeded where so many other owners have failed: in longevity. Whether or not you supported his brash methods, his overbearing attitude, or his perceived irrational decision making, you really can't deny his success over 37 seasons. I'm sure George will be missed in the yankees community.

My progress as a snowboarder came to a grinding halt last Tuesday. One of the skills I had been working on improving was riding straight. I had gotten pretty good at riding down the hill at an angle and making long sweeping turns. But when I reached the narrow sections at the end of the run I struggled to just ride straight ahead at a slower speed. At the same time I had gotten into the habit of taking two actions when I fell on my heel edge. The first was to roll my body a little bit so as to not fall straight onto my backside. By rolling or twisting a little on the way down, I could kind of hit the snow on my side, instead of my tail bone. The second was to stop putting my hands down to try to brace myself from falling. I've been told that the most common injury for novice snow boarders is broken wrists. It was ok to fall on my hands a few I weeks ago when I was riding cautiously slow and thus falling to the ground slowly as well. But last week I was riding with significantly increased speed, meaning the falls occur quicker and there is much more impact going through my hands and arms. These two subtle changes in my falling techniques would later come back to bite me in the butt. I took a nasty fall on Monday. With my twisting hands off maneuver I managed to land squarely on my left glute. Every ounce of energy I had achieved was transferred squarely into one small section of my body. After a few seconds of crucial pain, I got up and finished off a pretty good day. As luck would have it, I performed the exact same fall to the T, the very next day. I mean composed a mirror image of what I did Monday, on Tuesday. Once again, it hurt like hell, but I got up and rode out of there and went home feeling alright. That was 8 days ago. Currently, I have a bruise that covers the entire left side of my bum and a good portion of my left hamstring. I've never seen anything quite like it. This thing is massive and it's a shade of purple that deserves a new stick in the crayola box. I experienced severe hematoma in my leg after being pinned under a Mardi Gras float in 2003. This bruise makes my mardi gras leg look like a paper cut. When I went to see the physio the first thing she said was "Oh is that it right behind your knee cap where your leg bends?" I responded no as I didn't have any idea what she was talking about. She showed me a new bruise forming down the middle of my leg. She realized a few seconds later when I showed her the actual bruise that what she was looking at was drainage from the original. There is so much blood caught under the skin that it is actually flowing down my leg when I stand for a long periods of time and forming new bruises. Pretty good stuff. Anyway, no snow boarding for me until the swelling goes down. It's not the worst thing in the world. The New Zealand school holidays had the slopes overcrowded with people anyway.

To my delight some Americans opened a proper sandwich shop in Queenstown. Johnny Barr's probably would be considered mediocre in Texas or Louisiana, but in Queenstown it's a top notch hoagie joint. The pulled pork sandwich brought back fond memories of cooking Boston butt in my dutch oven back home. I had it served on a wheat baguette with coleslaw as the dressing. The defining characteristic of the sandwich was the BBQ sauce. The only BBQ sauce I have ever had in New Zealand is the same industrial slop we put on our BBQ pizza at Winnie's. It is the color of Hershey's chocolate syrup and is nearly as sweet. It bears no hint of smoke or hickory flavor. When I inquired about the origin of JB's bbq sauce I was informed that they make their own and the recipe was a secret. Whatever it is, it's legit and light years ahead of anything else available in Queenstown. For as long as I can remember, good submarine style sandwiches have been a staple of lunch for me. It's really nice to have a quality sand which option again.

And with that I think I've covered the most random topics I can think of and will sign off for now. Peace.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I see dead people

I should not be able to see my breath inside my house. If I'm outside, that's fine. If I'm inside my van just getting it started, OK. I should never see my breath in my bed when I wake up in the morning. But this is the situation I'm starting to find myself in. I'd like to think I look as cool as Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense.

It is a huge mystery to me why New Zealand contractors have built an entire country of residences without insulation and central heating. The only thing that I can speculate is that it saves the builders money during the development phase. But these savings are just translated into extra costs for homeowners whose power bills are absolutely outrageous due to the use of heat pumps and small (but inefficient) electric heaters. As I sit typing I'm running an electric heater in my closet in an attempt to get my clothes dry. I also continually toggle off and on a medium sized heater next to my desk to knock the chill out of my room. It's 28 degrees outside right now. During the day, it is colder inside of my house than it is outside. I've visited Chicago a few times and always really enjoyed my time in that city. I also got up to the Grand Junction area of Colorado two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed that trip as well. On both occasions I left those cold weather climates acknowledging that while I liked the locations I could never live in either one due to the brutal winters. I think if I make it through this winter I'll be completely open minded to trying a cold city in the states.

As it turns out, Voodoo, in all his glory, is not a good transport for getting me up to the ski slopes. I drove him up there a few times last week and made it to the parking lot just fine. But the first day that there was a hint of ice and grit on the roads he starting slipping and sliding all over the road well before I had reached the steepest sections. I had bought snow chains the week before, but I've never used them before and don't really have any desire too. They are not half as cool as they sound. Instead I opted to put the chains up for sale in the weekly bulletin and buy a season bus pass instead. This allows me to listen to music and sleep while being transported to the mountain instead of worrying about my icy road driving skills. It also gives me motivation to get up early and catch the first bus up the hill. And today I did just that. Being first on the mountain was quite an amazing experience. The cloud cover was low today and sun was coming up slowly. With hardly anyone around so early I rode the chairlift up alone. The peace and quiet really allowed me to take in the beautiful mountain views. Then I rode down freshly groomed snow without worry of colliding with 12 year old ski school students. It was great...while it lasted. By 11 a.m. I had been knocked down by two skiers and taken out a few of my own. By noon the place was a complete cluster and hardly worth dealing with anymore. On several runs I had to abandon whatever I was practicing and just focus on not hitting people. But I continue to make small improvements from day to day and continue to have a blast. I also continue to take some vicious falls but I think I have even started to fall better than I used to. All the traffic on the beginner slope has motivated me to progress to the next level where I can ride a little bit more freely. So over the next few days I'll be getting on a longer trail lift and heading up to a blue level run. Yikes!
Here's some pics I took on the lift and one of a snow covered Voodoo from last week. Don't be scared of the mustache. It's only temporary amusement.





Monday, June 28, 2010

Compare and Contrast

I haven't seen much of the world cup. I watched about 15 minutes total last Saturday night in a crowded bar in Dunedin. The sound was off and replaced by a three piece cover band who was actually not half bad. I'd probably be lying if I said I was giving the match 50% of my attention. I had every intention of trying to follow the world cup, until I realized the logistics of it. The matches that I would be interested in watching air at either 2:30 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. here. We don't have the cable service to watch them at home so it's not as simple as just watching them in bed, or on the dvr. I can't even get the highlights at home. This means I'd have to be fully dressed, functional and in a bar in town to watch these games, more than likely spending a lot of money in the process, not to mention losing a ton of sleep. I'm just not that big of a soccer fan to make all of that worth while. I find it very difficult to get excited about soccer. I definitely appreciate the athleticism, but it's not enough to hold my attention for any significant length of time.

I kind of felt the same way during a rugby match I attended last Saturday night. About a month or two ago, I learned from friends that the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team would be playing an exhibition match against Wales in Dunedin. This was thrilling news as Dunedin is about three and half hours from Queenstown and by far the closest city to me that the All Blacks would ever be travelling to. Attending an All Blacks match is generally on every traveller's "NZ to do list", including mine, so I immediately bought tickets and tagged onto my friends trip plans. The match was to be of special importance as it was to be the last rugby competition held in Carisbrook Stadium. The stadium is set to be demolished (or closed I really can't remember) in favor of a new modern indoor stadium.

The drive to Dunedin was not as scenic as my previous excursions through the south island. Upon arriving I quickly found that 4 lane highways, billboards, traffic lights, and buildings over three stories tall had become completely foreign to me. Dunedin is a true city and I realized that it was the first one I've visited in over six months. My appreciation for Queenstown's small size grew. After rounding up the crew, having dinner and pre-game drinks we made our way to the stadium. While locating the correct gates, I noticed that not many fans were sporting their teams' paraphanelia. It was difficult to distinguish between NZ fans, Wales fans, and casual spectators. This is usually not the case back in the US. Merchandising allows every article of clothing we adorn to bear the logo of our favorite team and most avid sports fans take advantage of this. (I still think LSU crocs on full grown men looks pretty ridiculous) We hurried to our seats in time to catch both the Welsh national anthem, the New Zealand national anthem and the Haka. In one of my first posts to this blog I posted a youtube link showing a Haka. It was exhilirating to see live. It really sucks for the other team to have to just stand there and stare as the All Blacks do a taunting dance right in front of them. They don't really get a chance to answer the battle cry.

With all the pre-game festivities in the books, the match began. I watched intently. I've picked up some basic rugby knowledge and terminology and I can follow what is going on. I quickly realized that I was having trouble paying attention to the action on the field. I was talking to my dutch friend Roos on my right. I was talking to a stranger on my left. I was watching the strange looking ginger security volunteer who stared eerily into the crowd with his back to the field, oblivious to the athletic competition going on only a few feet behind him. I watched the wave circle the stadium. I found myself focusing on everything but the game. This frustrated me as I truly wanted to enjoy the experience and get excited about what was happening. I began to compare what I was watching to an american football game, specifically a Saturday night game in Tiger Stadium. Here's what I came up with in no particular order:
  • Music and Huge Screens- Obviously these teams were not travelling with full marching bands, but the stadium also did not play any kind of music. I realized that the music played in a stadium sets up a rhythym for the game. Certain songs and tunes are synonymous with results from play on the field. Also, jumbo screens give instant replays for effect and also can be used to energize the stadium with "Get Loud" and "On your feet" messages. This element of stadium interaction was completely lost at the rugby match.
  • Cheers - No organized cheering!!! This is the best part of being a football fan. I know I've been to a great game when I leave with my throat starting to get a little sore and my voice getting raspy from all the yelling I've done. There was nothing of the sort going on at this match. Probably because there was no cheer leaders to get the crowd going.
  • The Clock - The clock counts up......To 90 MINUTES!!! I couldn't really get a sense of urgency with 85 minutes left to play. No play clock, no quarters, no timeouts. There was never an intense moment in the match where somthing needed to happen quickly. Clock management in football really contributes to the excitement I feel when watching the game. Once again, this doesn't translate into rugby and for me, it made the game seem extremely long.
These were just a few of the obvious differences between rugby and football that I committed to memory. I don't want to downplay the athleticism I witnessed on the field. The rugby players are extreme physical specimens and definitely in tip top shapes. They are superior athletes who showed great speed, agility and physical strength. I think rubgy is more like a moving wrestling match than an American football game. A guy at work once implied to me that rugby players were tougher than American football players because they don't wear pads. This could not be further from the truth. The rugby players generally don't hit each other from more than 6-8 yards away. They follow a ball and have an open view of most anyone who is going to make contact with them. There is no equivalent in rugby for a 230 pound linebacker plowing into standing quarterback with the momentum of a 20 yard sprint. Basically, i believe there are a lot more football players out there who could cut it at the professional rugby level. But I seriously doubt there are many pro rugby stars out there that could transfer into the NFL.

In the end I had a great night at Carisbrook Stadium and New Zealand really stomped Wales. I think the final score was 42-9. I'll keep trying to find ways to be a more enthusiastic rugby fan, but I don't think it will ever hold my attention the way the pig skin does......

Friday, June 25, 2010

My invitation to the cult

There's never any shortage of irony in my life. This makes reflecting on my past quite an amusing activity. On Tuesday I got up early and put on a layer of thermals followed by pants and jacket, both heavy duty and waterproof. I drove up to the Coronet Peak Ski field and laced up the most ridiculous pair of footwear I've ever owned. A pair of completely white Burton Snowboarding boots, US sized 14. They are massive and look like something Missy Elliot might have worn in one of her late 90's music videos. I strapped these monstrosities into bindings on a snowboard and awkwardly boarded a chair lift. To my astonishment I successfully exited this chair lift without falling down and began making my way down the beginner's run, also known as "the big easy". I wouldn't say that what I was doing was actually snowboarding, but there was definitely snow, and a board involved. I haven't had as many bruises as I do now since I played football in middle school. After my tailbone and knees could take no more torture I headed back home to squeeze in a quick 3 mile run before going to work.

It was on my to work that I smiled a little bit about the irony of morning. 5 years ago if I would have viewed my recently completed activities with a fair amount of disdain. For as long as I can remember I've been an uncomfortably cold person. I might find it chilly in a well air conditioned room where most other people were indifferent to the temperature. On a breezy day where most of my friends wore a long sleeve t-shirt, I'd be sporting a mid-weight jacket. Naturally, I've never thought to highly of snow. Other than a few freak appearances of snow in Baton Rouge in the last 25 years, I have absolutely no relationship with snow. It's fairly obvious what I thought about snowboarding back then. An activity that is generally considered dangerous that I would have to travel to a cold snowy place to participate in was about as appealing to me as flying to the moon. The idea of me snowboarding was ridiculous. I thought even less of running. Back then, I thought running was incredibly boring and painful. How could people enjoy running? The concept was beyond the scope of my imagination. I think my imagination has grown exponentially in the last five years.

So why not include snowboarding on my list of new activities? Well there's tons of reasons why not to snowboard, but I couldn't resist accepting my invitation to the cult. Snowboarding, or skiing, in Queenstown, has a following like I have never witnessed before. I think I might know roughly 40 to 50 people in Queenstown if I include loose acquaintances. Of those people I know 3 people who aren't snowboarding or skiing this season. Everybody is doing this. And they aren't just doing it, they are absolutely strung out high on it. The mountain talk dominates all conversations I partake in. My buddies at work are pretty much certified meteorologists. They can tell you the weather predictions to a T for up to a week in advance. People plan their entire days and weeks around getting "up the hill". A once coveted opening shift at work is now absolutely dreaded by most who much rather be riding all day and working at night. The energy that people exhibit when talking about snowboarding is undeniably strong....and it's infectious. After a couple of extremely rough days and a change in board and bindings I was jumping on the bandwagon with the rest of the cult. I don't know all the terminology yet and I definitely don't think I'm on my way to being a sick boarder, but I'm having a blast playing along. My first day was brutal. I can say with a heap of certainty that snowboarding is absolutely nothing like wake boarding. Have both immobilized is extremely scary and I spent most of my first couple of days building up a little speed, getting scared, and promptly falling on my butt. Some snow is soft, but most snow is pretty unforgiving to fall in. However, I've continued to make improvements, however small they might be, from day to day. And most importantly, I'm laughing and having fun. I'm sure that I'm pretty funny to watch, so I'm also entertaining others.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a great weather day on the mountain and I can't wait to see what kind of bruises and I can get after in the morning......

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?

Let's start with the short circuits first this time. Don't ever go into Queenstown Barber, or qt barber as the modern font on the trendy looking sign displays on 62 Shotover street. I've been to this place three or four times before just to get my hair cleaned up and had found a stylist who I was very happy with. When I arrived yesterday afternoon my usual red headed hair cutter was no where to be found and I ended up with a young blonde. While she was pleasant and friendly she absolutely BUTCHERED my hair. I explained to her, as I've explained to every hair dresser/stylist/barber for the past four years that I'm letting my hair grow. That all I need is a very small trim, about a half inch in the back and even less than that in the front. That my hair is very deceptive and that when its dry it curls up and is not nearly as long as it looks when it's wet. That my real purpose for being there is not get a noticeable hair cut, but to get the areas around my neck and ears cleaned up. She in turn took all this information, threw it out the window and promptly cut destroyed about 8 months of my hair life. Yesterday morning I could put my hair in a pony tail and then measure about 3 inches from the rubberband. This afternoon I can't even get all of my hair into pony tail. It's a monumental screw up. It would be like someone asking me for a small cheese pizza and me producing a large thai chicken with extra anchovies. And to add insult to injury I had to pay 27 New Zealand dollars for this debauchery. I feel violated.

I'd like to think that I'm fairly knowledgable about films but apparently I let a very good flick slip under my radar back in 2008. I've recently received a 1 terabyte external hard drive from home and had several friends load it up with movies, music and South Park and Family Guy Episodes. The other night I laid down planning to watch about 10 minutes of a movie before going to sleep. Not finding anything that immediately grabbed my attention, I chose the first movie in the folder that I had not seen: Bigger Stronger Faster*. My 10 minutes passed and I knew I wasn't going to sleep anytime soon as I was wide awake and in tune. The movie is a documentary by Chris Bell intertwines his life story with the anabolic steroids phenomenon in the United States. If you haven't seen it, you need to go rent this movie tonight. I'm not going to fire up a big steroid conversation because that could take ages but I do like one of the more powerful questions the movie invokes: When congress called in the baseball players to answer questions about steroid use, why did they not ask Govenor Arnold, an admitted former steroid user, to come answer some questions as well? And as far as Barry's concerned, I don't really care what you think about him but people should recognize that with or without steroids, Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players to ever lace up a pair of spikes. PERIOD.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Take me to see the voodoo queen, let her put a spell on me

I'm a natural born procrastinator. In fact, if you asked me to name one thing that I think I could do better than anyone else I know, I would have to go with procrastinating (although I'm pretty sure I can out eat just about everyone I know). Most self proclaimed procrastinators actually just never do the things they say they are going to do. I get my tasks done....EVENTUALLY, and usually after it's too late or the task has become irrelevant anyway. I keep the proverbial "to-do list". Everytime I cross an item off, I add five more. So this morning I decided to pick some tasks that I could complete by the end of the day. So I went through my list and scribbled down 6 activities that I would attempt to get done in no particular order:
  • Taxes
  • Insurance Claim
  • 5 mile run
  • tattoo
  • spreadsheet for mom and dad
  • blog post
And to my delight, by the time you read this, I will have crossed out all six items. The taxes aren't exactly complete, but I reached a stopping point and have to wait until America wakes up to try to find a 1099-R form (FUUUN!). 5 mile run got done with ease. I ran 16 yesterday, my longest run to date. I'll run 8.5 tomorrow to bring me up to 40 miles total for this week. Next week I will start to taper off my mileage and basically try to stay loose and rest up for the big race. I mailed an insurance claim to my travel insurance agency that I should have mailed in mid-February. Got the spreadsheet completed and sent to mom and dad and I'm working on the blog post now. And I got a tattoo. I'm the last of the Romero children to get inked, but that's alright because my tattoo is better than any of my siblings. And if you want to know where or what I got tattooed, then you'll just have to bring your ass to New Zealand and find out.

Before the Mt. Cook road trip there was another. The destination? Wanaka. Wanaka is commonly described as Queenstown's little brother or sister. It is eerily similar to Queenstown, only smaller and more tranquil. Wanaka, unlike Queenstown, pretty much shuts down after the sun sets. If Queenstown's nightlife is the main strip in Vegas, then Wanaka is Bingo Night at the 1st Presbyterian Recreational Hall. But that's not important, because that is not what me and Ben headed down to Wanaka for. Ben, from Scotland, is another proud employee of Winnie's kitchen. We made the hour long journey to Wanaka from Queenstown looking for the Big Nige Canyon.

Canyoning is one of those warm weather activities that I got really anxious to partake in again when the weather started to change here. I had also heard good things about Wanaka and a trip down there was on my to do list. The canyoning in Wanaka was rumored to be a little bit more intense than the Queenstown area. So we asked the boss to let us off on the same days, threw our bikes in Voodoo and headed down. The Big Nige canyon lived up to it's reputation, and it's hefty price. From the deep canyon website:

"With spectacular views out to the alpine scenery, it is particularly beautiful and hugely enjoyable. It features exciting abseils in strong water flows. The situations are dramatic and the abseils often take you into and behind spectacular waterfalls – visually sensational and very dynamic. Big Nige is a longer day – be prepared for around four hours of continuous descent (and the walk up the hill takes 40 minutes). As we descend we link into Niger Stream with its many jumps and slides – so you get in a lot of everything…
Group sizes are small and personal (max of four in a group). This trip is for people who want a bigger day of hands-on action and enormous amounts of fun….

As with all my New Zealand excursions, we got lucky. We had a small group, just Ben, myself and two others. We also had a great guide, Richard, who was an accomplished canyoner, mountaineer and climber. I'm always taken aback when I meet people like Richard. The
y are absolutely crazy. They take huge risks that could end in unfathomable injuries or even death, and yet they are the most down to earth people you will ever encounter. Luckily, Youtube was onsite to capture a few of my finer moments in the canyon, including the worst summersault in the history of summersaults. And I'm wearing a pink helmet, to add insult to injury.












We made it back to Wanaka in time to get checked into a hostel and hit the bike trails for a couple of hours. We learned just how quickly Wanaka shuts down when went out for dinner around 10:30 and found only two options available. We were the last customers to be served at the thai takeout joint we chose and they weren't happy about our arrival. Later we met an American at the only bar that stayed open past 11. The guy was wearing the exact same STS9 t-shirt that I picked up at ACL last fall and happened to be one of only six t-shirts I brought to New Zealand. Small world. The three of us completed the Rob Roy Glacier walk the next day right outside of Wanaka. I never would have guessed that frozen pieces of snow and ice would be so dazzling to look at. I've been fascinated with the handful of glaciers I've seen here and I still haven't seen the big ones (Fox and Frans Joseph) yet. I enjoyed my time in Wanaka and hope to get back there soon. There's a lot to explore there and apparently they have a really nice ski field as well.

Easter came and went without much fan fare from me. I opened on Easter Sunday and I think I worked a solid 10 or 11 hours that day. I tried not to think about the crawfish boils my family and friends were indulging in. But I did get a fabulous easter egg from my fabulous roommate Melissa.

Homemade and personlized, this egg was composed of chocolate over pink marshmellow and it was magnificent. The larda chefs at Winnie's are now all properly trained to bring me every bowl of icing, whipped cream, butterscotch, caramel and of course chocolate before they take it to the dishwasher. Between them and Melissa's steady stream of cakes, cupcakes and afgans; my chocolate addiction never goes long without being addressed. It's a good thing I'm running 40 miles a week.

Short Circuits

  • Let's go back to the Easter weekend for a second  to have a look at what I think is a strange regulation in New Zealand. Good Friday and Easter MONDAY are public holidays, or days in lieu, in New Zealand. This means they are simliar to federal holidays in the states: kids are out of school, government offices are closed and on and on. Here's the interesting part: the New Zealand goverment says that if you are open on a public holiday, you have to pay your employees time and a half on that day. This creates a tricky situation for the food service industry. They respond by imposing a 20% surcharge on their customers. So if on Good Friday you take your kids to church and then want to go have some pizza at Winnie's afterwards, you'll pay 20% more than if you did the same thing on Holy Thursday. The restaraunts are up in arms about having to pay their people time and a half. Most of them are trying to get through those days on skeleton crews to keep costs down. The customers are up in arms about the surcharges all over town. It's more money for me, so I'm happy about it, but every public holiday stirs up this huge debate and argument about that regulation.
  • A fellow Baton Rougean has arrived in the Queenstown area. Emily took a job in close-by Arrowtown and just happened to be travelling with lots of grits which she was willing to share with me. I enjoyed a delicious breakfast of grits and eggs the other day. Still haven't figured out how to describe them.....
  • If I hear "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn one more time, I'm going to cut my ears off with the pizza knife.