Thursday, May 31, 2012

The same but never

I've somehow gone and got caught up in another one of my Dad's new business ventures. Actually it isn't really new; it's been going, sometimes hopefully, sometimes agonizingly, for the last 11 years. There's now someone new helping to take the lead in it though. Someone from outside the family––which is probably a very good thing.

Despite the twists and turns of the past, I'm actually starting to get excited about it. And since yesterday I've been very busy working on visual media aspects of it as we're getting ready for the web launch soon. It's still a little early to start talking about it here, but I will post details in due time. I think something new is about to happen.

Something else that, like the above mentioned entrepreneurial endeavor, has happened before and is yet at the same time new:

The corn:

It's been shooting up at an alarming rate since we planted it a week or two ago. Also coming fast are the squash:

I went ahead and planted the whole seed pack expecting the germination rate to be––well––not as good as it was. Now I'll have to decide to either thin them aggressively or create a new hill. Not doing so well yet is the lettuce, which is sad:

The kids started it indoors before I even got back from Tennessee, but it hasn't done much since we planted it in the field. It also looks like something has started to eat it too. Bt it may pull through yet.

Until yesterday, when the first video shoot for the afore-mentioned business venture happened and the ensuing editing marathon started, I actually was spending a lot of my time in the garden... which is a nice change from my more typical lifestyle of late, actually. Not that I ever really got away from it. I somehow ended up spending at least a couple of my weekends working on a farm in Tennessee. It's different though, being back here in Pennsylvania and doing it. The same things in the same places. I hope it works better than ever this time.

I hope a lot of things work better than ever this time.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The same streets

It's always interesting when you go somewhere that you've been many times and find it presented in a way that's completely new. Last night I got that feeling at Corning's riverside Centennial Park.

It was the 3rd annual Glass Fest (Corning's main claim to fame is glass––think CorningWare) and it was really the most happening I have ever seen the town with the possible exception of Sparkle, but I haven't been to that in probably ten years, and the main thing I really remember from it is roasted chestnuts.

Things kicked off with a beer and wine tasting around Market Street (the definition of beer and wine was a bit wide... I'm not sure that Lima Rita counts as either). Then came the event everyone––at least everyone I knew––was waiting for: the Virgil Cain concert.

I'd never heard him before, but he was really good. Kind of a 21st century take on the one-man-band. He did mostly covers, but I hear he has some original stuff as well.

In between sets, the fountain at Centennial was turned into a light show. I'm not sure if I liked the music they chose for it, but the fountain itself was spectacular. Back to what I said about seeing some place you thought you knew transformed into something different and possibly better.

After it was all over I went to MSBC with a few people. Ended up on the roof at a table with the coworkers of one of my friends. They are all with the gas industry. These guys work at more of the engineering and finance levels though, and the conversation switched to the price of gas, the health of the industry, and the economy in general. Apparently things don't look very good. From what they said, it will be at least 5 - 10 years before natural gas prices get back to what they were before this year's slump. And that's the number that for better or worse, most of my material life seems to hang on right now.

Anyhow, the gas industry. Talk about things that have transformed places you already knew.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sails and the City

Last Saturday night, I went to a party in Corning that a friend of mine, Derrick, was throwing for his friend Serei, who was visiting from California. I no sooner walked in the door and set down the chips I had brought than Derrick asked if I wanted to go on a road trip to New York City sometime this week. I said yes, and three days later we were standing in Time Square. 
Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that would suggest. We had been planning on going Monday, but that fell through when we lost Derrick's brother (and, consequently, his brother's car). By Wednesday a new car had been found, and we drove to Weehawkin, NJ with the intention of taking a ferry across the Hudson to Manhattan Island. We parked, stepped out of our car, and the Blue Angels flew over our heads. Yes, the Blue Angels. 

Looking out toward the river, we saw there were dozens of giant, pre-steam-era looking sailboats going down the river accompanied by Coast Guard and Navy destroyers and fireboats––not to mention Ospreys and helicopters and the fighter jets flying in formation overhead. It was some kind of festival, and I thought we were pretty lucky to have come that morning. Then we got to the ferry docks and found out that maybe we weren't so lucky. The river was shut down for no-one knew how long, and the ferry company was going to bus us in through the Lincoln Tunnel instead. 

That seemed reasonable. At, least until we had stood by the curb for twenty minutes watching three buses line up, get on, then get back off, complain about mechanical trouble, and drive away, leaving an an increasingly angry group of commuters on the sidewalk. 

We finally made it across though, and in the end it was for the best as we were able to get our ticket refunded that evening before riding the ferry back.

I'd been to Manhattan Island once before, but this was my first time without my family or a car. I find walking around a city is always a strikingly different experience and perspective than driving around. And usually a better one in my opinion.

I was surprised how pretty many of the streets were. I suppose they're all terribly expensive to live on, but for the first time ever, New York looked like a city I would actually enjoy living in.

After hiking up to 47th Street from Port Imperial where the bus dropped us, we headed into the city toward Time Square, stopping at a couple different pizzerias on the way.

When we finally made it into the square, we signed up for an open-top bus tour of the city. I was a little skeptical of it at first, but it ended up being a great time––especially considering we only had a relatively short time to spend there.

My favorite experience of the day came a bit unexpectedly when we got back to Time Square around six or seven and ordered hotdogs from one of those carts my Mom told me never to order hotdogs from. The guy working it was Middle Eastern looking, and I heard another worker speaking to him in Arabic. I ordered my hotdog, and he gave it to me kind of robotically without really making eye contact or anything. When he gave me my change though, I thanked him in Arabic and started walking away. At first he just responded like it was normal, but as I was about ten feet away, he did a double-take, smiled really big and yelled something like: "Hey, how you know 'shukran?'" I ended up talking to him for a while, trying to remember as much Arabic as I could. I learned that his name was Mohammed and he was from Egypt, which I think is cool. I explained I'd spent a few months in Lebanon, which he thought was cool. He asked what I was doing in New York and (in English at this point, I'd exhausted the tiny bit of Arabic I actually have) and I explained we were just visiting for the day, at which point we both lamented how expensive the city is.

After saying goodbye and wishing him peace in Arabic, we headed back to Port Imperial (well, there may have been one stop at a certain pizza place on the way) and found out that this time, we could actually ride the ferry. Looking back on the city in the slightly more diffused late-afternoon light was really beautiful, and it was hard to imagine that eleven years ago I was watching thousands of people getting evacuated across this same river––most likely on this same boat––on NBC the morning of 9/11. It's a crazy world.

So it was a good trip. It was short, too short to see any of my friends in the city or the surrounding burrows, but for the first time I feel like I actually know my way around a little bit. Thus, it makes sense that I should make a return trip sometime in the near future, perhaps even this summer. Whether or not I can depends on a number of things of course, like bus fares, and finding someone to stay with, and if I survive the next few weeks of life, which is always really in question. I want to go back though, and I can say that for certain.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Good Earth

There are several wetlands in the valleys surrounding my family's hill. When I was younger I spent a lot of time in the spring and summer in these boggy areas watching dragonflies, catching water beetles and tadpoles, and generally trying to figure out how much of the ecosystem it was possible to transplant to my bedroom. 

Besides giant carnivorous water-bugs, the swamps were also full of blue clay that lay just below the surface of moss and leaves. I would sometimes dig this up, form it into pots and fire it, much like I've heard the indians who lived here hundreds of years ago did (although it wasn't until I learned how they did it that it actually started to work without the pots shattering into thousands of pieces or turning back into innocuous blobs). 

A couple days ago, two friends, Eric and Maria, came out to the hill. Eric is a master ceramist. He's also a fan of working with local materials and using available tools to make art (I can't remember if there's a name for this school of thought, but there probably is).

So it was back down to the wetland that is below the forest that is below our house to dig up clay, sort it, carry it back, kneed it, dry it, mix it and form it. While this was basically the process I had used when I was younger, doing it with someone who actually knew what they were doing––let alone a professional––was a completely new experience. Below are some photos from the day:

If you would like to see some of Eric's work, check out his Amazon page.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Here's to a good thing

Over the years, especially the last four or five, I've worked and lived with many different groups. They've included all kinds of people, been based in a lot of different places and existed for a lot of very different reasons. While I can feel nostalgic about many of them, there really aren't a ton that I can say I miss that much. In fact, only two come to my mind right now. One of those is the staff of Triangle this past year.

While graduation two days ago marked the end of two and a half years at Bryan (three if you count SBI), it was really only the last year that I found a group that I really felt like I had a place in. That was while working for Triangle, the campus newspaper.

When I started––purely because Kaity, one of my friends from SBI asked me to––I was really, really intimidated by the idea of publishing my ideas for a large group of people to potentially read (other than on this blog, that is). And while it turns out it was challenging and I was probably right to be intimidated, it also quickly became one of the things that I most enjoyed doing. I think a large part of that is because of the people who made it what it was. They eventually became some of the people that I felt most at ease around and enjoyed the most.

I remember a few weeks ago going to Chattanooga with Alex and Cat (both from the staff). I think I've mentioned before that I usually felt like whenever I went somewhere with a group of people, it was always automatically a strange, random group of people just because I was there. I think that night going to Chatty was one of the first times that I didn't feel like that.

Whether it was staying up all night to get meet a deadline, working on some crazy video or project that had never been attempted before or just sitting around wondering if it was possible for the majority of the student body / faculty / office of student life / admissions office / [insert entity of your choice] to get any more furious at us, there was some kind of bonding that occurred that I usually struggle to achieve with people. And it was fun.

It's way, way too soon to know if I will miss Bryan, miss Tennessee, or even miss college in general. But I can definitely say to my comrades from Triangle: I will miss you guys.

--- Photo courtesy of Chris Leary. ---

Friday, May 04, 2012

The Conch Shacks of Nassau

I've come to the conclusion that cruises aren't really my thing.

While boats and the ocean are all things that I like, something about being stuck on one with a bunch of people who are determined to be entertained and more people who are determined to entertain them wasn't really to my liking very much.

This feeling was amplified by the fact that it rained the first couple days.

Things got better when we finally landed at Nassau though, and looking back, I kind of wish we could have just flown there or taken a speed boat or something like that instead of having the main attraction be the journey there itself.

After the previous two days, I was determined to avoid the other cruisers as much as possible. So as soon as I got off the boat, I set out into some back streets away from the main shopping area that goes along the harbor. It was cloudy when I got off––as it had been for the entire cruise up to then––so when the sun came out suddenly, I decided I should go back and get some sunscreen and glasses. On the way back, I ran into Shannon and Rachel from our group heading to a beach on the other island across the harbor. After inquiring if they had any sunscreen, I decided to go with them as going to the beach was also one of my goals for the trip (the sunscreen they had turned out to be expired, leading to my present circumstances, looking like a nuclear firestorm survivor, but that's another story unto itself).

Due to it's being on another island, getting to and from the beach required walking across one of two large bridges that connect the more developed Paradise Island with Nassau––where all of the actual residents live. While coming back across the bridge, I looked over the pedestrian rail and noticed several small fishing boats tied up behind a row of shacks that were built on the edge of the water directly under the bridge. They were full of what appeared to be conch shells, of the kind I liked to collect when I was little. Closer inspection, however, revealed that they were in fact entire conch animals. Then I noticed that many of the shacks had "conch" in the titles on their signs and advertised dishes like "conch salad." After Shannon remarked that the place––which except for the conchs and a few Bahamians playing checkers was relatively deserted that afternoon––looked like it would be a much more happening place at night, I decided I had to come back.

And that I did. Around 7:30, I got back off the cruise ship, went through customs again, and made the two or three mile walk back to the bridges.

There were no tourists around, but the area seemed at least relatively busy with Bahamians sitting out in front of the line of conch shacks.

While walking out under the bridge, this guy started waving to me from one of the shacks and called out "Hey, tall guy, you want  [held hand in front of nose and made sniffing gesture] some white stuff?" I smiled and said "Not tonight, but thanks" and kept walking until another guy stopped me and asked if I wanted to smoke (I can usually tell from the intonation in someone's voice on the word smoke whether they're talking about something other than tobacco, and the intonation was definitely there).

After refusing the second offer, I continued walking to almost the last shack in the line, at which point I could no longer resist my curiosity to find out what "conch salad" is.

It turned out to be delicious. Think pico de gallo––only spicier and with lots of chunks of sweet white meat in it that I presume was the conch.

The rest of the trip was unremarkable, and, thanks to the radiation burn that I got earlier that day and a lingering cold that came back with vengeance, rather unpleasant. If nothing else though, I can add conch salad at a shack under a bridge in Nassau harbor to my list of memorable culinary experiences.