I have been away for quite a while. Sorry about that! Life has kept my attention pretty well occupied so far in 2016. The good news is I’ve rediscovered my interest in fitness (and in not permanently affixing my backside to the sofa) and shaken off about 40 pounds since the new year–nearly all of the unwelcome weight I put on in the three years preceding.
I’m back to running on a regular basis, and got my speed to the point where I’ve set a few personal records recently: A new 10K PR in Central Park (which is no small feat considering the hilly terrain) and a PR of nearly three minutes at the Broad Street Run earlier this month, which I’m especially proud of. I have other running-related announcements too, but I’m holding those for a day or two–unless you follow me on Instagram, in which case you already know.
More immediately, in one week I am loading a backpack and flying to Yosemite National Park, where I will spend three days and three nights on a solo hike through the backcountry, sleeping in a tent, bathing in ice-cold streams of fresh meltwater, and eating my food cold out of a bear canister.
More precisely, I am flying to Oakland, renting an SUV, and driving to Yosemite Valley, then hiking into the backcountry. I have planned out an ambitious route that will carry me over 30 miles in 3 days, taking me over or past the park’s most famous landmarks. I don’t plan to summit Half Dome–the cables will be down, and while I know some overachievers have made that climb, I’m a fan of being alive with bones intact–but I will pass over Clouds Rest, visit North Dome and Tenaya Lake, and (if all goes as planned) conclude my trip by descending Yosemite Falls. Continue Reading
I spent last week sailing around the Caribbean with Liz (and 3,000 other passengers), which is why it was so quiet around here. We shot a bunch of video, which I expect to translate into one or more video blog entries, but for now I thought I’d share a few highlights because editing video takes a long time, you guys.
- Sailing out of NYC, which meant we skipped airports altogether and took a subway and a cab to our ship. Forty minutes after we left our apartment, we were on the deck of the ship with drinks in hand. Cannot recommend this enough.
- Discovering the wonder that is the chipotle martini, my new favorite. It starts out tasting like pineapple, then turns minty, then finishes peppery. We got the recipe, and this will definitely be something I learn to mix.
- Talking with the bartenders and cruise staff about their home countries; learning about the history of Myanmar from Htun, who lived there through about a half dozen governments; when we asked him his favorite place from all his world travels, he said “home.” He’s been working on cruise ships for decades, but he’ll never afford to take his family on a vacation.
- Finding my perfect vacation hat in San Juan, eating my first (and yeah, probably last) mofongo, exploring Calle de San Sebastian after dark (but sadly before it got really lively) and finding a cockatoo that said “hola.”
- Accidentally breaking up a date-rape-in-progress by drunkenly stumbling into a waiter who spilled a drink all over the poor girl. Subsequently being barked at (literally) by the guyliner-wearing “rocker” who’d been running his game on the victim.
- Acquiring $500-$600 worth of hooch in Saint Thomas for around $220. Yes, we’re those people.
- Discovering that most of Guyliner’s band was aboard the ship, that they were all in full regalia (including heavy eye makeup) at all times, and that the lead man looked like the chubby son of Simon Le Bon and Mark Hoppus. Realizing they spent 90% of their time trying to date rape girls by the pool.
- Walking four miles along the main road in Grand Turk, while every cabbie on the island stopped to offer us a ride, and encountering wild horses, wild dogs, and wild cows. Meeting a guy who repairs ships for a living, and who explained between puffs on his joint how he lived in New York City for a single winter before running back to the Caribbean. “That place was meant for people with fur,” he explained.
- Snorkeling twenty feet off of Governor’s Beach in water so clear you could see twenty feet down, and encountering like, seriously, hundreds of kinds of fish you guys.
- Secretly replacing all the promo cards the band left around the ship with Coach Corky Runs flyers.
- Discovering the ship’s piano bar late in the trip, belting songs terribly, and becoming part of the piano bar tribe.
- Finding out from the piano bar folks that the Guyliner band members were there with their parents.
- Getting home half an hour after disembarking from the ship, because once again we didn’t have to go to the airport. Seriously, you guys, we didn’t have to go to the airport.
In the end I’d say Grand Turk was my favorite port. It’s tiny and underdeveloped and quiet, and in a lot of places you could almost believe you were alone on the entire island. I’d also say that date-rapey cover bands from Connecticut who think wearing eyeliner still makes musicians look cool are just the worst.
One fringe benefit of dating an actor: last week Liz was cast in a commercial production in Atlantic City, which meant a free hotel room for a couple of nights. I hopped a train from Philly and met her, and we got in a few hours at the casinos.
I managed two things I’ve never done before in a casino: a straight-flush on a video poker game, and hitting a number (17) on a roulette table. Unfortunately, both times my bet was only one quarter. I’m not exactly a high roller. I’m one of those people who stretches his money out as long as he can, to maximize the free drinks. At least Liz and I left the casino about even.
In the morning before Liz went to work and I got a train back to Philly, we went for a run on the Boardwalk. For those of you who know AC, we started at the Tropicana and ran East, past Revel, to the end of the boardwalk and back. Atlantic City is funny in the way it juxtaposes the glamour and scale of big casinos with the tiny beach-style houses of the Jersey Shore. Around the Absecon Lighthouse, on the East side of Revel, AC is empty and desolate. Julius DeAngelus, a fellow author and head organizer of the Philadelphia Writers Group, grew up in that part of Atlantic City. His blog, Dancing on Seaside Ave, chronicles his life experiences as well as the recent developments in Atlantic City. After following Julius for a couple of years, it was interesting to get my first in-person look at the neighborhood he’s written so much about. It was easy to spot his childhood home – it sticks out a bit, the only structure left standing on that strip of Seaside Ave.
Liz and I are talking about a longer trip back to Atlantic City at some point in the near future. Maybe while I’m there I’ll take some time to explore the forgotten sections around the Absecon Lighthouse.
- First, the cardinal rule of Las Vegas: Wear. A. Watch. Or carry a cell phone, but at least bring some means of telling time. Clocks do not exist on the Vegas Strip. Casinos have no windows, and once the drinks start flowing and you start putting money in that bright and shiny machine, hours can vanish faster than you would believe. Wear a watch.
- Second, the cardinal rule of drinking in Las Vegas: if you’re going drinking, anywhere outside the casino floor, pre-game in your room. Drinks on the casino floor are free – just remember to tip your waitress $1 per drink if you ever want to see her again. Do you know how much drinks cost anywhere outside the casino? GO BACK TO THE CASINO, that’s how much. You can pick up beer and liquor at many stores along the strip – my favorite was the CVS just north of Monte Carlo. Please note: if you are driving, DO NOT PREGAME. We at Keelty Labs have zero tolerance for those who drive with any amount of alcohol whatsoever in their bloodstream.
- Thirdly, if you plan to gamble – or even if you don’t plan, exactly, but this is your first or second trip, please establish some kind of limit for yourself. Don’t be one of those people being dragged out by their friends, or one of those people crying about how you can’t afford your plane ticket home. Those people exist. Bring your gambling cash, and leave your wallet in your room. Vegas is designed to take all of your money away as fast as possible. You need to protect yourself.
Okay, with those three rules out of the way, on to some more fun touring suggestions… Continue Reading
Las Vegas is so well known for the Vegas Strip (which isn’t even technically in Las Vegas, but that’s a subject for another post) that many tourists miss out on the totally different adventures to be had within a short drive. Many know about the Hoover Dam, the project that gave birth to Sin City (as a sort of pleasure dome for the many dam workers who’d been taken away from their wives and families and sent to the middle of the desert), but few take the time to appreciate the wild areas that are only a short drive from the Strip.
An hour to the northeast, at the top of Lake Mead, is the Valley of Fire, a beautiful desert you’ve seen in plenty of movies, where tourists can observe petroglyphs left by indigenous people three thousand years ago. In the summer, though, when the Valley of Fire demonstrates its name, you may be more interested in escaping the heat. An hour northwest of Las Vegas is the Spring Mountains, better known for their highest peak and its namesake city, Mount Charleston. These mountains feature over 50 miles of recreational trails–some gradual enough for a beginning in tennis shoes, others suited more for advanced hikers–and because the base of most of these trails is 5,000 feet higher in elevation than Las Vegas, temperatures are generally about 20 degrees cooler than on the Strip.
Getting to the Spring Mountains is easy, and parking is plentiful. To find a trail suited for you, I recommend the comprehensive guide at BirdAndHike.com – but be warned, cell phone reception is very spotty in the mountains, so it’s wise to plan ahead and print out all the directions you’ll need before you go. Continue Reading
In honor of last week’s trip to Las Vegas with Liz, this week is Vegas Week, where we learn about the history, sexy and sleazy, of Sin City, and I share my personal experience and advice for a visit.
Opened in 1993, the Luxor was an early entry in Vegas’s 1990s mega-resort renaissance. Built by Circus Circus enterprises, the same company that built Excalibur, Luxor shares Excalibur’s heavy-handed approach to theme. While Excalibur’s medieval theme has been carried to a ridiculously tacky exterior, however, Luxor’s ancient Egyptian theme, equally garish, manages to be sexy. From the exterior, Excalibur looks like a giant toy castle, owing probably to the “family attraction” concept Vegas resorts were pushing so hard in the 1990s. The white towers with brightly colored roofs look like something that would come in a box labeled Playmobil or Lego. Luxor, meanwhile, is a sleek obsidian pyramid, which would be invisible by night except for the white lights that dance up and down its vertices and the spotlight beam at its peak, reportedly the brightest in the world, that seems to be beckoning alien life to come drop a few hundred grand at the tables. Yes, there is also a giant tacky sphinx out front, but most people hardly notice it because the pyramid is so eye-catching. Continue Reading
This weekend I escaped on a long-anticipated visit to New Orleans with my BFF Liz and her brother and sister, who was on the eve of her twenty-first birthday. This was the first time any of the three of them had visited the Vieux Carre, and only my second. I was there in September 2004, a year nearly to the day before Katrina arrived and changed everything.
It was interesting seeing the city post-Katrina. Prior to the visit, I wondered how much would have changed. The French Quarter, physically at least, appears unchanged. There are perhaps more vacant storefronts, but everything I remembered, from Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop to the Cat’s Meow to the poster of disturbingly young girls hung in the window of Little Darlings strip club, was intact. What has changed dramatically is the culture. Katrina figures prominently in almost all the art on display in the Quarter, and conversations with locals almost always include some mention to things “before the storm.”
The purpose of our trip had nothing to do with cultural anthropology, however. Our goal was debauchery. The weekend was a bit of a whirlwind, trying to squeeze as much of the New Orleans experience out of our few days as we could, and ended up being a bit tamer perhaps than we’d anticipated. There was certainly a lot of drinking – both the classic New Orleans cocktails like absinthe, sazerac, and mint julep and the sickly-sweet Bourbon Street variety, all of which seem to come in their own plastic souvenir cup. On my first trip six years ago, I fell in love with Hurricanes, the signature drink of Bourbon Street. I was dismayed on this trip to learn that my taste buds have lost their affection for sugar and fruit flavoring, and after a couple of frozen fruit drinks I needed beer and whiskey to put me right. I like to think that means my palate is more sophisticated now, and not just that I’m getting old. Continue Reading