Sunday, January 20, 2013

Downton Abbey and the Jersey Shore are the same show. Discuss.

I've been spinning outside the blogosphere since Austin. I justified to myself that the world and all of its distractions didn't need one more for a while, and I took a bloggy break. 

And the world has continued to spin. 

There was no shortage of drama while I've been out of the loop: the election, devastation on the east coast, global unrest, fiscal crises, the list continues. 

Now that it seems we're in the midst of a brief intermission, it feels like I may have reached the end of mine, at least when it comes to the blog. So relax, enjoy, and let's share this wacky ride together. 

For the time being, I simply must tell you about my most recent observation.

A few months ago, I started watching Downton Abbey. So many people I respect really like the show, and was looking for a bit of a diversion.

I had no idea what I was getting into. Watching an episode was like a drug, and at the end of each hit I needed another. Like an addict, I somehow justified the speed with which I raced through the first two seasons. Just one more, I'd say to myself.

Because the third season was starting soon. 

That was a few weeks ago. Now I'm completely hooked. And it's good stuff.

I can't wait to get my fix tomorrow. I'm public television's complete bitch when it comes to that show. I'm a servant to the Crawleys. I'm a servant to the Crawleys' servants.

Once I was all caught up on the happenings at Downton, I did a bit of catching up with everyone's friend, Jimmy Fallon. One of his recent guests was Snooki from Jersey Shore.

Prior to a week or two ago, I had no contextual reference when it came to Jersey Shore. I'd heard about it, but I'd never seen an episode; I had virtually no idea what it was about. If any of its cast members wandered into my world, I'd have assumed they were just another stranger.

But that was a week or two ago.

I took a brief trip to the Jersey Shore. I watched the first few episodes, and that's all it took.

I was hooked.

And right around the end of Season One at the Jersey Shore, I noticed something.

Downton Abbey and Jersey Shore were dangerously close to being the same show.

I know I'm offending the refined sensibilities of Downton Abbey fans by even slightly intimating that this fabulous Weekly Television Event has such a pedantic cousin. But it's true. Let me paint the picture.

This is what both groups share:

They live in a special, isolated place.

They have no particular work ethic.

They've become royalty, to different audiences.

Both groups are looking for class-appropriate matches. In Downton Abbey, servants seek servants. Higher classes look for class-appropriate matches. 

The folks who inhabit the Jersey Shore look for their appropriate comfort zones. Gorilla juice heads with an Italian lineage. No grenades.

Both groups thrive on ceremony. The primary function of Downton Abbey inhabitants is dressing and primping to stay in and receive guests. The group at the Jersey Shore ceremoniously dress up - almost every night - to go out. Appearances.

They all thrive on drama. If it's not there, they'll create it.

From England to Jersey, they're all extremely loyal, even if factions of the group are bickering.

Unlike common, modern-day culture, neither group relies on cell phones or computers. Technology, for either society, is minimal at best.

Confidences are created and destroyed. There's betrayal, challenge, ritual, artifice.

Break it down to characters, and the similarities continue. Mary and Matthew aren't unlike Sammie and Ronnie. Everyone at the Shore has their turn at shadowing the ouija board vibration of Mrs. O'Brien, and the Situation shares the ingratiating, endearing, madly manipulative shades of Thomas. 

No one can rival Maggie Smith. No one. When she comes into a scene, I want to grab a pen. Because almost everything she says drips with repeatability.

But if I were to pick anyone who has the Dowager vibe, it's Snooki. Good at heart, but hard and crusty on the outside. 

I've written more notes about these odd comparisons, but I feel I've made my case.

I challenge any Downton Abbey fan to take a stroll down the Jersey Shore. You might find you've stumbled across some distant relatives.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Austin recap. In short, vacations are never long enough.

Some time has passed. Not a significant amount of time, but enough to drive over a thousand miles to find myself back home again.

This trip was such a blur. And I really tried to make it a point to experience every minute.

Minutes went too fast. I think Logan feels the same way.

When last I updated, it was about to be Friday.

Friday was great. Erin and I hit South Congress - this totally cool area in Austin I'd want to inhabit with regularity if I lived in Austin.

Erin and I agreed; Austin is a very cool city. I could totally live in Austin.

Especially SoCo.

Who doesn't like to be welcomed with a big i love you so much tag? Such is SoCo. South Congress is filled to bursting with misty cafes, live music and wonderful diversity. Not unlike Portland, Austin's discovered the food truck, and a block of Austin is dedicated to all things foodie.

We did a before-and-after SoCo thing on our last full day in Austin. In between, we went to Logan's performances at 2:30 and 4:30 pm at Ballet Austin.

Here's just a sample. This is just a taste of the wonderful performance the kids put together in three weeks. This is a segment of Logan's level. It was a great show, and I think I understand, in perhaps a small way, what it must be like to feel a part of something so grand.

After we dropped the kids off for their last night of ballet dancer cameraderie, during which they vowed to us they didn't intend in the least to have an "alcohol party" or smoke any "marijuana cigarettes", Erin and I went back to South Congress.

We hit The Continental. It's the best deal on the block. We heard great blues, we each had a cheap beer, and there's no better atmosphere than what we found. I'd have loved to have stayed later, but we had ground to cover in the morning, so we were gone before it cost us anything. After 9 pm, there's a cover. But there's a lot to hear before 9 pm on a Friday night.

We had the best veggie burgers for dinner at the Snack Bar. Then it was time to head to bed. Because we are old, and we had hundreds of miles to cover in the morning.

We found our way to Logan somewhere around 10 am on Saturday. We did our best to pack the car, which wasn't pretty - and then we hit the road.

Hundreds of miles later, we found ourselves in Amarillo. What a fucking long day. There's no other way to put it.

After a night at the Days Inn in Amarillo (not as nice as the Ramada Inn in Austin, and it was more expensive - make note) this morning, we headed home. There's something about having been somewhere before that makes the journey shorter, and the way home seemed to glide by.

I had a hankering for a donut along the way, and we had what is perhaps the most unintentionally humorous moment of the trip at that particular donut place. I think only Erin, Logan and I would appreciate the retelling, so I'll spare you.

And now we're home. I'm glad beyond measure that Logan had a good time and learned a whole lot of stuff at Ballet Austin. I certainly enjoyed my time while he was gone. We both needed the time away.

And now we both have new realities to face.

Freedom has a very curious cost.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vacations are the perfect time to get lost.

I'm good at getting lost.

I perfected my skill last night after dinner last night. Erin and I picked up Logan and his friend Colton after their day at Ballet Austin. We were going to all go to the Salt Lick for dinner, but a local gal we chatted with at the studio told us it was almost an hour away, and typically there was a long wait. It was already 6:30, and the boys had to be back at the studio early the next morning, so we opted to head to the County Line. It was very tasty, with a beautiful view.

We saw a photo opportunity on the back porch of the place, and asked a woman who was about to order if she'd take a few photos of the four of us. She let us know we'd picked the right person to ask. "I do pictures," she said with a certain smug enthusiasm. We learned swiftly that her name was Teresa.

Teresa took several shots of us. We stood up. We sat down. We looked up. We looked behind us, at the sun, of course indirectly.

Eventually, we wrangled my phone out of Photographer Teresa's hands and headed down the hill to bring the boys back to their dorm.

I put Ballet Austin as our destination on Mapquest, so that was a bit of a setback.

Once we dropped off the kids, I put Ramada Inn into the Mapquest.

About 17 minutes later, we realized that I'd input the wrong Ramada Inn.

Eventually, I'd gotten us so lost that I drove and Erin attempted to navigate our way home. I was never so glad to see a generic Ramada Inn motel room in my life.

But we had a great evening, despite the extra-long tour of Austin.

Everything's a bit more fun when you're out of your element, navigating somewhere new.

As for today, I got up before Erin (this has become typical), and at 8:41 am, while I was getting my coffee, I got a text from Logan. It read: "All the kids have their parents here already!! Why don't you love me?!"

Today was the day we had the chance to watch the kids go through their class day. I thought it was kind of a drop-in thing. Logan was only faux-disappointed, as it turned out, and he was happy to see us when we eventually arrived around 11.

We watched a couple of his classes, went out to lunch and parted ways until tomorrow.

As for the rest of the day, we puttered around Austin, saw a bunch of cool stuff, drove on many highways. We're having a relaxing evening so far, and we may go out later.

It's nice to relax. And tomorrow's our last full day in Austin. We have a lot to do before and after Logan's performances tomorrow at 2:30 and 4:30.

One thing's for sure. There's a whole lot more to do in this city than we'll be able to accomplish on this trip. It's clear that Austin needs to be unpeeled and savored like a big, tasty fried onion, slowly and with intention.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Austin city limits.

Erin likes to sleep, so we got out of our crappity America's Best Value Inn motel room at 11 am, right at check-out time. I got up hours before, got showered and visited the breakfast area of the hotel. People really like waffles here, apparently. An intricate waffle batter dispenser and waffle iron has been a feature at both the HoJo's and the very inappropriately named America's Best. Not a waffle-lover, I opted for coffee in the extra-large mug I brought from the room.

I didn't mind the room. Erin thought it smelled. In my mind, it wasn't bad. But it was HOT. The air conditioning didn't do the trick.

So I'm glad I caved and succumbed to Erin's wishes. She booked a room in the Ramada Inn. An extra $20 per night means so much when it comes to motels.

So enough kvetching about the accommodations.

Maybe our room has become so important because it represents a respite from the merciless heat.

So it's been established. It's hot in Austin - a different, encompassing kind of hot. I'm sure if I lived here, I'd get used to the heat. Logan mentioned yesterday that he doesn't even notice it now, after almost six weeks of being here. Adaptation is a beautiful thing.

San Francisco has its earthquakes. Portland has its rain. Austin has the heat. Otherwise, these are all among the most beautiful cities in the country. In other words, every city, like anything beautiful, has its down-sides.

At any rate....

Once we left our room spot on at 11 am today, Erin and I headed to Kerbey Lane for breakfast/lunch. My lovely friend Shawn, who used to live in Austin, suggested the place. It was fabulous, eclectic and totally tasty. Erin had a pancake, I had a fried green tomatoes BLT and sweet potato fries. Yumlicious, I say. There are a few Kerbey Lane locations, but I picked the original, aptly located on Kerbey Lane.

After acquainting ourselves with the city a bit, we found our way to the hiking trail along the river that divides one part of Austin from the other. It remains to be established if this body of water is a river or a lake, as Austin refers to this tributary as Lake Austin, but it sure looks like a river to me.

The path at the base of the river/lake is perfect, not only because of its fabulous views of the city, but because it's nicely maintained, fairly flat, and leads to several areas at which one can walk across a bridge, across the water. And dogs can go off the leash. Undoubtedly the best dog park ever.

The melange of mutts that were eagerly splashing about in the water and sniffing one another seemed like a canine version of what happens at any playground in any city anywhere. We met Olin, a darling pup I'd have happily and later regrettably taken home with me.

Olin was sadly more attached to his owner than us, so we continued for a couple of miles down the path, across the river on the footbridge. The views were striking.

I can completely understand why this path is so popular on a Wednesday afternoon. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours, and we got a glimpse of Austin that was spot-on gorgeous.

Here's the view from the bridge over the water. It's difficult to discern, but some folks had gone to great lengths to tag the next bridge with intricate messages and artwork. Lives were potentially lost. But the incongruity of the LET'S PRETEND WE ARE ROBOTS message and artwork was an interesting contrast against the downtown Austin skyline.

Erin and I were drenched with Austin sweat by the time we got back to the car. We went to our new hotel after a tour through the city, and decided to relax for just a bit before we met up with Logan and his friend Colton. Again on Shawn's suggestion, we're going to the Salt Lick for dinner tonight. We'll pick the boys up at 6:15 pm at Ballet Austin.

From now until then, it's time to relax. Siestas are fundamentally a good thing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Deep in the heart of Texas.

We got the show on the road at 11 am, and found our way to Austin seven hours later. The topography gradually changed as we drove, becoming less stark and more lush; although the Recession Tour continued until we got to Austin.

The worst was Sweetwater, Texas. Boarded up buildings seemed to outnumber populated structures. Everything seemed hot, dry and beige.

There was a sweet spot in Sweetwater. We had lunch at the Amole Restaurant, and it was fabulous. The people were nice, the food was great. So obviously Sweetwater has its share of good people. Maybe we missed the hot spots that would have made the Sweetwater stop on the Recession Tour a bit less sour.

We finally made it to Austin, finally found our hotel that we'd booked on Expedia while lunching in Sweetwater.

Austin is cool. And Austin is hot. Wiltingly hot.

Once we were settled, I texted Logan. Initially, we decided to get together tomorrow night. But we headed downtown and figured we'd see where he was staying, we realized he was very close to where we were, and we gave him a call.

Long and short, we met a bunch of Logan's new ballet friends, got a gyro for dinner and went to the turtle pond at the University of Texas. Very cool. And he's very happy.

It's time to relax now. Tomorrow, we'll be looking for a different spot to land for the duration of our stay. I really don't care about where we're staying; I've been doing my share of camping this summer, so virtually any hotel visit is a lovely luxury. But Erin's not too fond of where we're staying, and we're here until Saturday. So it's fine with me if we find a new spot.

We've also decided that Logan, his Colorado ballet friend Colton, Erin and I will go to the Salt Lick for dinner tomorrow.

Other than deciding that, tomorrow's a no-agenda day. I think that going downtown is definitely on the docket. It's so cool downtown.

And so hot.

**I've tried to upload some photos from the day, but our crappy wi-fi has rendered that capacity useless. Another good reason to find a new hotel tomorrow....

Monday, July 23, 2012

Here we are in Lubbock.

Finally, we saw some Texas sky.

Which, after 10 hours, began to look a lot like New Mexico sky. Big and blue and white punctuated with lots and lots of nothing. Which turned out to be very, very good.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We left Denver at 9 am. By the time we got to Pueblo, it was time to find a bathroom.

In an attempt to stick with the thrifting plan, we tried to find an ARC in Pueblo. After some searching, all we found was a donation station. I happened to trip across a Sara Lee Bakery Thrift Store that I thought might have a bathroom, so we stopped in and used the bathroom, bought a baked good and chatted with Lydia about how to get back to the highway.

I have yet to consume the cherry pie I bought in Pueblo. I bought it more for the box than for its interior; an undoubtedly tasty cherry pie. I just think it's wildly intriguing when a box advertises that the contents contain what one would expect, as if it's some crazy bonus. In the cherry pie's case, apparently it's some sort of boxed pie marvel that its contents contain Real Fruit Filling!

After a harrowing re-entry onto the highway and a lovely drive, we stepped out of our modern-day world and had lunch at a mom-and-pop cafe in Raton. Yes, we were in New Mexico.

Erin slept while I drove to Logan.

Not Logan Makis.

Logan, New Mexico.

It was 107 degrees when we slid into town, and I think the folks at the truck stop were kind of pissed that I didn't do more than just that at their establishment. Not much to see in Logan, New Mexico, aside from this completely intriguing sign for a store that no longer exists. I have no idea why not.

Kind of ambiguous, the Just Stuff. Just saying.

Now that Erin was fully awake, we had a compelling conversation, much of which I taped without her knowing. I'd provide a link to what I recorded, but frankly I'm tired, and this freaking slow "High-Speed" HoJo internet is bringing me down. So I might try tomorrow.

But I digress.

We passed a large, sprawling wind farm that was very randomly placed in large swatches of land outside of Logan, New Mexico. We postulated many hypotheses as to why these farms were just where they were. I think, at the end of the day, it may be because it's very windy. At least that was our experience.

Such was the case all day. The car was rocked by waves of wind and heat. And we successfully found our way to Lubbock, somewhere around 7 pm.

The woman who checked us into the Howard Johnson's (chosen simply for the kitsch-factor) was super-pokey, but we finally got access to our room, which upon entry was super-hot. So we went to dinner while the room cooled off.

Where does one go for dinner in Tey-Has?

A steak house, of course.

Google steak house and google restaurant in Lubbock, and you'll get more hits for the former.

Unfortunately, we lost an hour moving from New Mexico to Texas, so it was 9:30 pm by the time we were ready for dinner.

After a series of unfortunate missteps, for many of which I'm responsible due to my aging eyes and general spacial difficulty, we finally arrived at the Texas Land & Cattle Steak House, somewhere around 9:45 pm.

Erin had a wedge salad and a baked yam.

I had a dinner salad, a baked yam and steamed asparagus.

Not a steak in sight.

Welcome to Texas.

So far, it's been established that it has a big blue and white sky, dotted with a whole lot of what one might assume is not much.

But things aren't always what they seem.

It was a great day.

I drove the whole time, and while Erin was asleep, I had a very pleasant time in my head, all by myself.

When we were both awake, we talked about stuff.

We talked about how we seemed to be on the Recession Tour. Every town we visited had a number of boarded up buildings, vacant spaces. Maybe that's the case in a normal economy, but towns seemed somewhat desolate and sad, all along the way.

Including Lubbock. Lubbock on a Monday night seemed completely shut down. Like a Twilight Zone episode. One of those where everyone falls into some alternate universe but you, and you're the only one who doesn't know.

But again, I digress.

We had a lovely dinner. And now we're back at the hotel, ready to span the space between here and Austin tomorrow.

Today was a beautiful day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation.

Obviously, I'm not spending my summer vacation blogging.

It's been a quiet and fast summer so far. Quiet because both kids have been conspicuously absent. Connor's working and living with his dad, and I see him in brief blurs when he rises or descends here at home, on his way to or on his way from spending time with his girlfriend. It's as it should be, and he's happy.

Logan's been in Texas for the past month, dancing at Ballet Austin. He very occasionally checks in, I'm sure more for my sake than his. He'll be fine navigating this crazy world. 

I'm reminded of when the kids were in grade school, and I'd join them for lunch. Connor would see me wander in the lunch room and his face would light up. He'd make room for me among his friends, and they'd greet me just as warmly. 

When I visited Logan, he'd have a "what the hell are you doing here?" look on his face, and he'd tolerate my presence as long as it took to consume our lunch.

Both responses are just fine. And nothing's really changed that much.

Logan's approach to my presence in his life has been tempered by good manners and time, so I assume he'll be a bit more excited than he used to be when he saw me in the lunch room in elementary school. I'll be wandering into his current lunch room when I find my way to Austin a week from today. I'm leaving next week to pick him up from his 6-week ballet intensive.

And, like most of life, I'd like to think it's about the journey; not the destination. I'll be traveling in my crappity POS car down to Austin in the midst of a hot summer with my friend Erin, and I'm determined to have a great time along the way.

Erin, like most of the people with whom I surround myself, is fascinating. She's simple, and she's complicated. And I can't quite figure her out. That seems to be the common denominator that weaves through the pattern of people I tend to retain. I just don't get them entirely. 

I've known Erin for a dozen or so years. If I ask Erin what she did today, her answer would be banal and rote; the kinds of answer most of us would give. 

So I've learned to not ask that question. 

I ask Erin about concepts. About ideas. About ways people are. And then I listen, and we chat, and it's usually completely compelling to hear what she has to say, to hear our conversation evolve.

She's hard to pin down. And I was completely shocked when I mentioned I needed a traveling companion to go to Austin to pick up Logan. And Erin said she'd go with me. Oddly, her answer came as easily as if I were asking her if she wanted to go to the grocery store with me. 

Game on, I say. It doesn't hurt that Erin thinks the world of Logan. And the feeling is mutual. Logan loves Erin. He's said more than once that she's his favorite among my friends.

So that means our trip back might be fun. It might be more of a party and less of an "oh. My mom's here to have lunch with me (eyeroll)" experience.

I've determined that I'm going to blog about our trip to Texas. 

Maybe the trip and the blogging about the trip will reinvigorate my desire to blog. I've kept my interior on the inside over the summer, and it's been nice. But I've missed this format of personal expression. 

I've lost sleep, actually, wondering if my relevance is gradually deteriorating by keeping my tender thoughts on the downlow.

The world continues to spin without my supply of observations. But that's going to change next week.

I'm back, baby.

And I'm headed to Texas with Erin, with the intention of picking up Logan, and having some fun.

Watch out.