Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Windows

The new windows are in! They were installed yesterday and we're already seeing improvement, quite literally. The old windows have not been washed for some time, especially on the outside. And plus their seals were worn out, so the condensed moisture collected between the panes. So it all looked very crappy. But with the new windows (and a large patio door) we can see clearly now!

Also, these windows seem to provide a much better insulation than the old ones. First, these are energy-efficient argon filled pure-vinyl windows. Second, the installers caulked all the little cracks between the windows and the house frame. So now we can sit/stand near any of the new windows for quite some time and not freeze. And did I mention that unlike our old painted-shut windows, these ones are very easy to open?

It's too bad that only half of all the windows in the house got replaced though. But hopefully we will come into money (miracles happen, you know) and fix this issue.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Raleigh is a great city to live in. So says Money magazine and after being here for only a couple of months, we agree. What makes it so great? Well, there are plenty of places to go make money (jobs) and then go spend money (shops, movies, clubs, restaurants). It's still relatively warm here in winter, compared to New York, yet the seasons are more pronounced than in Florida. There are more country radio stations than hip-hop ones (something I personally am very greatful for). The schools are very good and there are several good universities in the area as well. And it's beautiful here too except for newly developed North Raleigh areas.

We knew all this even before we moved here. What we didn't know was that the Triangle in general and Raleigh in particular have a well-developed system of greenways and hiking and biking trails. In my present condition, I can't really do any biking or off-road hiking. But lucky me, I have miles and miles of nice paved greenways here! What are those? Those are trails, mostly paved and interconnected, that go through the woods, around the lakes, alongside the creeks of the residential and even some commercial neighborhoods. These are neither side-walks nor parks, but nature corridors that were left undeveloped for everyone's enjoyment.

The first greenway that we found was the Alleghany Trail. It starts at the North Hills Park with a steep decline and follows Crabtree Creek. It is tree-lined and quiet, except for a 20 or so yards of the Beltway underpass. Closer to the end of the trail, around Lassiter Mill site, there are large houses on both sides of the creek. We didn't mind those since they actually were very pretty and added to the scenery, especially around the old mill site and the Great Falls of Crabtree. This greenway also connects to several others, which we're planning on exploring in the future. But it is a very nice 2.4-mile walk/run/bike ride by itself.

Retail Woes

I don't go to stores on Black Friday since it's a rather stupid thing to do. First of, people do get injured and killed there. But suppose you do get a parking spot and make it into a store alive and in one piece. There are still suffocating crowds, maddening lines to changing rooms, restrooms, registers, exhausted sales people, and irritating Christmas jingles every which way you turn. The sales are not that good either. 10% off here or $20 off there - same as with any other holiday and even some non-holiday weekends. And the so-called "door busters" are mostly crap that otherwise noone would buy anyway. So I stay home on Friday after the Thanksgiving. Whatever I loose in terms of money, I save in terms of sanity and emotional well-being.

We did get to the stores this weekend though, simply had to. As I mentioned many times, our house is mostly empty. And we are remodeling. So we do need to go to stores to buy basic stuff. And then of course we find out that we don't need about half of it because it's the wrong color or just "doesn't go with anything else" and we go back to the stores to return it. Most of the times, it is not a problem. And then there's a case of Cost Plus World Market:

We had to return a seat cushion for a chair, but we lost the receipt. Not a problem, we figured, we'd just get a store credit. Right... They refused to take it back, even though the thing had all the tags attached and all. The reason - we don't have a receipt and since it's a PILLOW, they can't take it back without a receipt because it's a sanitary issue (or something like that). Ok, I can sort of understand how a seat cushion can be mistaken for a pillow by some dim sales person. What I fail to understand is how can presenting a receipt alleviate sanitary concerns that apparently arise without such a piece of paper. After some protracted arguments we did return it for a store credit. McManamans score 1-0 and take the lead!

Then on Sunday we decided to finally get some furniture for either a living room or an office. We aimed for a sleeper sofa. But first we decided to have breakfast at some greasy spoon. We drove to one such place, the Waffle House, and since all the tables were taken, got seats at the counter with a full view of the kitchen area. A Waffle House eatery is a place that we only go to once every few years. And every time we say to ourselves - never again! But the horrors wear off eventually and we return, attracted by irresistable smell of grease and the yellow shine of American Singles cheese. The strange thing is, it seems like there's a certain standard for employee selection for Waffle House franchise. I mean, every one of the places has the same crew - a mean middle-age manager with greasy hair; a fat and pimply white chick with glasses and piping voice; a disgruntled white guy in an exceptionally dirty, even by Waffle House standards, uniform...

The best seat in the house is not in a booth, but right at a counter. Your order will be taken much faster which by no means guarantees fast delivery. But more importantly, you get a chance to see your food being made. And believe me, this opportunity is absolutely priceless. Our server first searched for a stubby pencil while holding the order book in her mouth. Upon locating a pencil somewhere in the fathomless depths of her dirt-covered apron, she wrote our order down on a saliva-moistened page of this book. We then saw the same girl flipping someone's buttermilk waffle with her bare fingers - no gloves and yes, she did have what looked like an open sore on her thumb. Someone's order of hashbrowns got mixed up and the manager peeled already-melting slice of cheese off the top of hashbrowns, again, with her bare hands, and threw it violently right back into the alluminum prep basin, for the next order. We quietly paid for our orange juice and left without waiting to see how our order would turn out. Score: 2-0.

Thanksgiving Update

Our first Thanksgiving at a new place was pretty good (there's always room for improvement). My parents were going to drive down for a short visit. However, we figured out that since we had no furniture in the house except for my work desk, 2 chairs, and our bed, it was probably not the best idea for them to visit us right now. Of course, both Mom and Dad protested and assured us that they would be quite comfortable sleeping on an inflatable mattress and eating while standing up. Only with great difficulty did I manage to pursuade them to not go through with this folly. We agreed that they'll drive down here sometime in December when we're going to be better prepared to entertain.

This change of plans happened at the last moment (the day before the Thanksgiving), after I bought all the food. Not like I bought a lot of it. After all, we are still living out of a tiny dorm-size fridge (the one for beer and soda). So, for example, I didn't get a whole turkey, substituting it for a small turkey breast instead. Nevertheless, I had a task of cooking all this food last Thursday. The menu called for all the traditional stuff:

- roast turkey breast with honey-mustard glaze
- celery and mushroom stuffing
- cranberry relish
- mashed potatoes
- baked herbed sweet potatoes
- sweet and spicy green beans with turkey bacon
- pistachio salad
- and 2 pies (store-bought)

Even though we stayed in bed until 10am and then spent some time going to the Blockbuster for some last-minute rentals, I still managed to finish all the cooking by about 3pm! By about 3:30pm my work desk was transformed into a dinner table. Yes, it was not very elegant, but as I mentioned, there's a lot of room for improvement. The important thing to know here is that everything was very tasty and we totally pigged out.

Our bellies after the meal looked something like this:

And afterwards, Chris got the fire going in our fireplace and we made ourselves comfortable on a couple of blankets in the living room (remember - no furniture yet) and watched some silly movies. All in all, it was a pretty darn great Thanksgiving and that's something to be really thankful for.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Money

Yes, that's what we need around here - more money, a lot more as a matter of fact. We don't really do much for entertaining any more (except for going to see the new "Borat" movie which by the way was hilarious!). Nor do we eat out or even spend much on groceries. And yet, with all the home improvement projects going on, we are spending way more money than we're making. And I still can't post any pictures of finished rooms.

The master bedroom is almost done though. I know, I've been saying it for some time now. But we had an unexpected problem hanging a very heavy and stupidly designed ceiling fan. So it definitely slowed things down a lot and required extra work. But it should all be ready by the end of THIS weekend. Then I'll take some pictures, if I find my digital camera.

Chris is alternating between working on the master bedroom and the office. He just started on the office, but is making quite a progress. The plan is to finish everything (remove popcorn from the ceiling, paint everything, and bring in new furniture) before the Thanksgiving. Hmm, dunno if it really is going to happen, but I'll keep you posted.

Big progress with the kitchen - we finally ordered all the cabinets and the appliances yesterday. Who would've thought that it'd take almost a month to get this part done! But we're still going to be using our tiny dorm-style fridge for a while since the new one, along with a new range and a range hood won't be delivered until the beginning of December. So, due to the space limitations, we won't have a big stuffed bird for this Thanksgiving. Instead, we're going to have just some turkey breast. Also, not much room for leftovers, which some might consider to be a good thing.

This weekend we are going on a scenic drive around Raleigh area to look for inexpensive and not overly ugly furniture. We desperately need a sleeper sofa (or a loveseat), some bookshelves, and a dinner table w. chairs. Wish us luck!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Slow day at the office

Yes, this is another slow day at the office. Of course, it's Friday, which means that we might get something big or complicated or just plain pain-in-the-butt right at 5:25pm. Our clients have done this to us before, so why should today be any different, right?

Anyway, I know, I haven't posted for a while. But here's the thing - there was nothing new to talk about. My days are spent in the house, more specifically, in the kitchen. Not like I cook that much, but my work desk doubles as a dinning-room table for the time being. So as I said, I sit here all day, staring at the computer screen or at the bushes in the yard, which is a much nicer view with all the little birds and squirrels and sometimes a big grey cat. And then in the evenings, after Chris comes home, I cook food and then go upstairs to the only other piece of furniture that we have, the mattress, to read.

The only distractions from this routine that I have are tours of the house that I give to the contractors. Yes, the renovation saga has started with no end in sight. Chris does not have much time, between full time work and full time college, to do much work around the house. Plus a lot of it is pretty specialized. So I called around and so far had 5-6 people stop by. I wouldn't call it fun, since after the first couple of tours it gets very repetitive and boring. But I'd definitely say that it's an appropriate activity for the Halloween, since most of the quotes sound very scary.

We started with our master bedroom. Chris took the nasty popcorn off the ceiling. That didn't take long nor was it very difficult. But then he had to mud the drywall. Hmm, who knew that it'd be such a complicated process. So he spent his whole weekend last week on mudding the drywall and then priming it. Some butthole advised him to not waste time on painting with a roller and a brush, but get a sprayer instead. Right... After countless hours and many cans of primer, the room looked downright scary. You see, one needs to spend several hours practicing with a sprayer before starting a job and even then, each sprayer is very different. Of course, Mr. Butthole forgot to mention that to Chris. It's a good thing Home Depot has a great return policy.

Finally, today the contractor sent his crew in and they mudded the ceiling. This took them about 2 hours and cost us about $200. It should all be dry by tomorrow and Chris plans on sanding and priming/painting it himself. Thus he'd save us about $300 - our furniture fund.

In the mean time, we met with the kitchen designer, Susannah. She came over and measured our kitchen, something that we proved to be absolutely incapable of. Now we have to go see a guy at Lowe's since he's the one actually developing the plans for cabinets. So that's going to happen this Saturday. After that's done, we'll be pretty ready to order the cabinets and appliances and countertops and a sink and a faucet and light fixtures and other odds and ends that make this project such a nightmare.

Other than that, things are going pretty well here. It's been rather cold, so I mostly stay home (since I don't have a lot of warm clothes). Yesterday I finally bought a cheapy fleece jacket. Usually it means that the next day it would get considerably warmer. It sure did, but also it started raining. So I'm locked in the house again and my only escape at the moment is a potential trip to one of the area's malls.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More About the House

So, we're settling into our new surroundings. A couple of days ago we had a new washer/dryer delivered and installed and now I can finally do laundry (can't wait, right!). Other than that, we just committed to spend some major dough to replace half the windows in the house. Why only half? Well, some day, when we get rich, we'll take care of the other half. But for now, at least we'll have nice new well-insulated windows in the kitchen and in both rooms upstairs. We hope it'll all be in place by Christmas.

The much-needed kitchen renovation is not happening right now. We tried to contact 2 designers to come out and do measurements and just kick some ideas around. As luck would have it, one was sick all last week. And the other one is waiting on some additional information from her sources in order to come up with a ball-park estimate. So there goes my plan of having a great new kitchen just in time for the Thanksgiving!

Chris started work at CarQuest. He didn't do much yesterday since they hired so many people at once that they didn't have enough computers ready for everyone. So I imagine it was pretty boring for him. The good news is the work hours are flexible - he can start any time from 7:30am to 9:00am and can even take 30 min for lunch instead of the full hour, just as long as he works his 8 hours a day. And since he has no problem waking up early, he plans on starting at 7:30, cutting his lunch break short, and being home early as well. Great plan!

I'm not posting any pictures yet because there's really nothing to post. But hopefully we'll be starting and finishing our bedroom re-design in a couple of weeks and then I'll post the before and after pix.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


We finally moved to our new house in Raleigh, NC. Well, the house is actually not new at all, it being almost 30 years old. But it's new to us, so there you have it.

The first couple of days were pretty miserable, to put it mildly. We didn't get here until Saturday night and there's nothing worse than arriving to a new place at night. It is completely disorienting and demoralizing. Plus the weather was really bad - rainy and cold.

My brother, who was helping us move our meager belongings, and Chris brought all the boxes into the living room. I brought Xander in. He got so scared, poor thing, that he ran straight for one of the closets and refused to come out even when I was trying to coax him with his favorite treats. That was very much like the episode of the South Park in which Tom Cruise locks himself in the closet - very funny, but a bit sad too.

We had cold water and electricity, but no heat since our forced air system and water heater run on gas. We also had no phone service and no Internet. And did I mention we had no furniture at all? If this did not add to the misery of the whole thing, then I don't know what would've. Our realtor, Galina, stopped by with some home cooked food which we ate off of paper plates and with our hands (couldn't find any silverware).

It was really getting late and very cold. The best thing seemed to just go to bed. My brother rolled out his sleeping bag and made himself semi-comfortable in the corner of the kitchen. Chris and I huddled under a couple of blankets on a squeeky air mattress upstairs. All in all, we looked much like some bums at a bus station.

The next morning, after my brother left, we went shopping. Basically, we need pretty much everything for the house and it does feel like we're starting completely over. There were so many little everyday things that we had to buy, that we kept forgetting something or other.

But today is day 3 at our new house and things seem to be getting back to normal. Three major achievements were getting Internet connection, hot water and heating (read - showers and warm bedroom), and a new mattress. Yes, we're the proud owners of a brand new and a very comfortable Sealy and since we upgraded to queen sized one, there's plenty of room. It feels so good after months of sleeping on an old crappy mattress and especially after a couple of nights on a tiny air mattress.

Xander is back to normal and he runs around exploring all the rooms, jumping on counters, tearing toilet paper to shreds and being in general a pain in the neck, but still adorable. And that's all the news for now.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'LL BE BACK... maybe

Ok, so the reason I wasn't adding any more posts was that I had a problem with uploading images to my blog. Yes, I do like posting a lot of pictures (and not necessarily of myself). So not being able to post pix makes the whole blogging thing a lot less interesting for me. Also, I'm sure that some people out there don't really care for my ramblings, but just look at the images.

Today, all of a sudden, I decided to give it another try. And lo and behold, it finally worked and I was able to attach a new (actually, a rather outdated) picture of myself and my friend, Amanda.

Looks like I'm back after all. So, ever since my last post, tons of things happened. Here's a brief run-down:

1) We sold our house in Daytona Beach and left Florida. We're temporarily staying at my parents' house in New York.
2) We bought another house, a larger one, in Raleigh, North Carolina. This happened a while ago, but we just never found time to move due to important developments (see below).
3) Chris and I finally went to Russia, survived the trip, took tons of pictures, and I will be posting them soon.
4) THE BIGGEST NEWS OF ALL is saved for last - WE ARE EXPECTING OUR FIRST BABY!!! How cool is that?!!! Actually, I'm more scared than anything else, but thanks to Chris' support I'm not freaking out. So all that weight that I put on, it's really not me pigging out or the camera adding 10 lbs.

Ok, more on all this later. I gotta get back to work now...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Disney-MGM Studios

Resistance Is Useless! That is probably a not-so-secret Disney slogan. Only a couple of months ago I was making fun of all those tourists flocking to Orlando and spending hundreds of dollars on multi-day park hopper tickets and Mickey T-shirts and picture frames. And then we went to Epcot and really enjoyed it. And then we went to Disney-MGM Studies and really enjoyed it to the point that we mulled around a souvenir store with a $20 Mickey coffee mug in hand (fortunately, the check-out line was long enough for us to come back to our senses). And now we're thinking about going to the biggest, bestest, and most famous of them all - the Magic Kingdom!

But wait, I was going to talk about how we went to MGM Studios. I really liked this park better than Epcot. It was smaller and more manageable. We actually saw everything that we wanted to see, rode every ride that we wanted to go on, AND made it to the early Fantasmic! show with plenty of time to spare. Partially it was because we got smart and started getting Fastpasses whenever possible. And they really work - you get to go straight to the front of a 50-minute long line of sweaty and bored no-Fastpass people.

Another nice thing about MGM park is that it's built to look like a real town. The streets have well-marked car lanes (of course, with no cars) and wide sidewalks. There are plenty of trees for shade, park benches for rest, and souvenir stores for window shopping. In short, MGM has more of a neighborhood feel to it than many real towns.

There are also tons of interesting things to see and learn, mostly about movie-making business. For example, a "Lights, Motors, Action!" shows how such awesome stunts like high-speed car chases and villains falling off the roofs of tall buildings are filmed. This show is as real as it gets which makes it rather unpredictable. When we were there, first it was delayed for about 20 minutes because of a fuel spill and then it went for longer than scheduled because of a small accident on the set. It seems a bit long-drawn especially during the set changes. But those that stay for the entire show will be able to impress their friends explaining the stunts in the next "007" movie.

Another awesome stunt show is "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular". They recreate a lot of scenes from the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" movie. I personally think that Indiana Jones movies are THE BEST action/adventure movies out there. That's an opinion shared by a lot of people, by the way, seeing how this show is always packed.

It was a "Star Wars"-themed weekend and we saw lots of movie characters, such as Choobakka (that's a very hairy giant beast) and the Jedis (that's the good guys) and Imperial Troopers (that's probably bad guys, but I'm not sure) parading up and down the streets. We also went on a Star Tours ride where we boarded a "Starspeeder" (like a space bus) heading for Tatooine (that's a desert planet). In reality it was a big room with chairs and a large TV screen. The chairs would shake and rattle and the screen would show stars and asteroids and space battles and all that. As I'm not a fan of Star Wars, I wasn't very excited. But it is a very good flight simulator in a sense that it came make you sick pretty quickly, reminiscent of Mission: Space at Epcot.

A couple of mellow rides that we went on were the Backlot Tour and the Great Movie Ride. The backlot tour is long and mostly boring. But a man-made Catastrophe Canyon is very impressive and at the end you get to see a full-size Alien character and the Queen of Narnia. The Great Movie Ride takes place behind the Mickey's Giant Hat. It's very nice, slow, dark, and the animatronics figures are so realistic, that I even confused them with real actors (maybe the real ones are so bad?). But the coolest part of the whole ride was not even seeing John Wayne on his horse, but riding through the Munchkinland and listening to the Munchkin Song.

And speaking of songs, we also got to see the Beauty and the Best - Live on Stage show. I've never seen the original cartoon, but now I definitely will rent it.

The MGM park has 3 thrill rides. One was the Star Tour and it wasn't all that. But the other two we had no complaints about whatsoever. First we went to the Tower of Terror. The ride is absolutely awesome. It's very simple - you're in an old creaky elevator with a bunch of strangers. The lightning strikes, the lights go out, you get completely disoriented first and then the elevator drops several stories down. Then it lounges up to the 13th floor with a beautiful, but increadibly short-lasting bird's eye view of the park. And just as your scream reaches the vacationers down below, your body is already falling down-down-down the dark elevator shaft. Your stomach tries to keep up with the rest of your body, but can't... And that's just the beginning of it.

Apparently it was not enough scary screamy darkness for us because we also got Fastpasses to the Rock'n'Roller Coaster. It's a normal coaster only it's inside a building. So the bad news is there are no huge climbs or drops on this ride. The good news is there are plenty of twists, turns and loops in tight dark spaces and the only light there is comes from flashing neon signs. In darkness, noone can hear you scream... mostly because they are too busy screaming themselves and also because all this is set to "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)".

But we were done with all the sight-seeing and with all the rides just in time for the early (9:00pm) show of Fantasmic!. It's kind of pointless to try to describe any of the Disney fireworks shows. But this one was absolutely mind-boggling mostly because the pyrotechnics was down to the absolute minimum. Instead there was a laser show projected onto 3 huge dancing fountains, a boat parade and a moving story.

And that's why Disney is so great. It's just a lot of good clean fun even for adults. And the behind-the-scene efforts and technology that creates and sustains this giant show it becomes truly amazing and even more enjoyable.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Real Estate Business

Ok, this is really very annoying - I typed a nice story about us selling the house and was ready to publish it when the stupid blog crashed. So of course nothing was saved.

So basically, we're finally selling the house. We signed all the papers two days ago and got a big red sign in the yard yesterday (I should take a picture of it). All our remodeling is finished. Well, almost all, since we still have to buy one bi-fold closet door, install new carpet on the stairs, and get all the construction mess out of the garage. But we bravely fought through all the little and medium-size obstacles thrown our way by a heartless corporate monster known as Home Depot and by scores of contractors and sub-contractors that we dealt with throughout the remodeling process.

Overall, we've made a lot of changes to this house since we bought it. Hopefully, it will help us to sell the place quickly and with good profit. The market is cooling off and there's a lot of inventory now. So it's much more difficult to sell a house now than even 6 months ago. But hopefully it'll play in our favor when we proceed to buying our next house.

We decided not to go with a traditional real estate agency because it sucks paying 6% of the selling price to someone that is not even your friend or relative. Yeah-yeah, they do a lot of work, supposedly, but the gig must still be very sweet. If they were truly overworked and underpaid as some of them claim to be, we'd have illegal immigrants doing this kind of job. Anyway, we went with this Assist2Sell (CLICK HERE TO SEE OUR HOUSE) service. They are a full-service realty and operate nationwide. But they charge a flat fee of about $3000 if they sell the place and not a penny more. Of course, we had to also put our house on MLS listing (CLICK HERE TO SEE OUR HOUSE) to give it a better exposure and increase our chances. So now we'll probably have to pay 2.5% to the buyer's realtor (unless Assist2Sell people find us a buyer as well). Still we'll save two to three thousand dollars compared to going through a traditional real estate agent. And it's the next best thing after Selling by Owner, which we have no time for.

Our first showing is actually tonight. So wish us luck.


Kitchen BEFORE

Kitchen AFTER

Master Bedroom BEFORE

Master Bedroom AFTER

Living Room BEFORE

Living Room AFTER

Front of the House AFTER

Monday, May 15, 2006


After living in Florida for almost 5 years, we finally made it to our first Disney park, Epcot. And why not? After all, it is as much a part of real Florida as the Everglades or St. Augustine. Ever since the first Epcot brochure that I saw, I wanted to do three things:
1) Ride the monorail;
2) Find out what's inside the huge Epcot sphere;
3) Take a picture in each of the World Showcase countries and be able to say that I travelled around the world in just one day.

And so we charged the camera battery, drove an hour, parked the car in the Discover lot, paid for two adult one-day passes and followed several thousand other people through the park gates. The park itself has two parts - the Future World (with the monorail and a huge sphere) and the World Showcase, spread around the World Showcase Lagoon. We decided to follow the yellow brick road clockwise and see it all.

First stop was the Spaceship Earth, the iconic 180-foot tall geosphere. Inside, we boarded a little cart and moved through an animated display of the history of human communications, from cave paintings to instant messaging. The whole experience was very much like being inside a PBS educational program. It was not interesting and undoubtedly educational, just rather mellow and a bit old-fashioned.

Not to worry though, since we had plenty of thrills and excitement ahead of us. The Universe of Energy attraction was closed, so we went straight to the Mission: SPACE. It is the kind of ride that can send one to a hospital and should not be attempted by those that suffer from claustrophobia, motion sickness, back and neck problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, headaches, migranes, vertigo, or anxiety. For the rest of the tourists there are motion sickness bags located within an easy reach. The G forces and the super-realistic graphics will sure make you sick, especially if you don't follow the simple rules, such as DO NOT try move, close your eyes, or attempt to take your eyes off the monitors. Let's just say that this Mission: SPACE left me sick to my stomach, covered in cold sweat, hyperventilating, and experiencing a mild case of claustrophobia, something I'd never had before.

Feeling very sick I asked Chris to bypass the Test Track ride and we continued on to the World Showcase. Very slowly we made our way through Mexico and Norway. Every time I would turn my head to look at something, a wave of nausea and dizziness would flush over me. So I don't remember much of either of these showcases except a little boat ride inside the dark and chilly pseudo-Mayan pyramid. By the time we got to China, I started getting my bearings and was able to not only snap pictures of a fantastic floral dragon and a colorful pagoda, but even express mild interest in the menues. Unfortunately, the Circle-Vision 360 film about China's grandeur set me back a couple of steps on my way to recovery. The film reminded me of the best Soviet propaganda movies, with overjoyed kids with red kerchiefs tied neatly around their necks, red flags flowing over the Tiananmen Square and a larger-than-life portrait of the fearless leader guarding the gate to the Forbidden City.

There are many ways to cure post-motion sickness nausea. One is to sleep it off. Another one is to drink some Ginger Ale. Yet another one is to eat something with enough salt and spicy mustard to jolt your stomach back into submission. And that's exactly what I did once we reached Germany and its beergarden-style cafe. A fresh salt-covered pretzel and a bratwurst smothered in mustard and buried under a heap of warm sourkraut did the trick and I was back to feeling peachy once again.

What are the country showcases anyway? Well, these are mostly souvenir shops and ethnic restaurants hidden inside stereotypical structures and manned by country natives. Name a country, than quickly write down the first couple of things that come to mind and presto - you got yourself a country showcase. Mexico is Maya pyramids and sombreros. Norway is vikings and swords. Germany - beergardens. France -the Eiffel Tower and snobby waiters. Some country showcases have additional attractions, such as China's Circle-Vision fild, Japanese drummers, or American animatronics puppet show featuring Ben Frankling and Mark Twain.

And so we made our rounds, through the Italian vineyards and the a capella presentation of American patriotic songs, through the bonsai forests, and past the Moroccan belly dancers, bypassing the very tempting French bistro and British fish & chips place where you can drink beer while listening to the Beattles tribute group. And we finally made it to Canada. Even though Canada smelled like a medium-rare filet mignon (they have a steak house on premises) we decided against stopping there. After all, we can always go see the real thing, right?

Instead, we left the World Showcase alltogether and returned back to the Future World for some more rides. The next ride we went on was the "Honey I Shrunk the Audience". It is a very old, what's called "venerable", attraction scarred by a horrible Kodak-sponsored pre-show. And yet having legions of white mice run over your feet in the dark theater and a giant friendly dog sneeze in your face makes up all the outdated cheeziness of this attraction.

Next we spent hours in line waiting to get on the new attraction called Soarin'. The first hour was passed in playing an on-screen geography trivia. In 60 minutes I learned, among other things, that Atacama is the driest desert on the planet that once went 40 years without a drop of rain; while the dunes in the Namib Desert reach 1000 feet high; that at the current rate of destruction the rain forests will be completely destroyed in less than 50 years; that an acre of these said rain forest has more species of plants and animals than in all decidious forests of Europe; that Himalayan mountains are not only the youngest on the planet, but also grow at 4 inches a year; and that Bryce Canion is famous for its fantastic rock formations. But the ride was absolutely worth the wait. How did they do it, I don't know. But somehow the ride designers managed to create an exhilarating and very real hang gliding experience. At some point it seemed I could almost touch the water surface or kick a surfer right in the head. And the golf ball that went wizzing by only inches from my face was so real that it made me duck.

Our last attraction was the Test Track. Even though we were promised a 40-minute wait, the line actually moved much faster. The ride simulates testing conditions that cars experience during development process. It provides a succession of climbs, bumps, sharp turns and unexpected stops, a heat chamber followed by an ice chamber and a corrosion chamber, and a sudden acceleration on a super-elevated stretch. It's fun and all, but not nearly as much excitement as driving on I-4 through Orlando in heavy traffic or driving on I-95 through all the construction zones.

By the time we were done with the rides it started getting dark and the time drew closer to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks display. Our plan was to watch the fireworks and then have a nice dinner at a Morroccan restaurant. Except we didn't know that the entire park essentially shuts down right after the fireworks, at about 9:15pm. And so we got some ice-cream instead and found a spot along the World Showcase Lagoon for firework watching. I'm not going to try to describe the show itself, except to say that it the most fantastic 15-minute fireworks, light, and music show that we've seen.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wine Tasting

Dear Diary,

Two days ago I went to my first real wine tasting event. I was so excited yet nervous about being surrounding by snobby middle-age high-brows. What's all the excitement about? Well, I'm not a wine afficionado and have little interest in the subject. But for the past couple of weeks I was stuck in the house, mostly confided to my office. When I would get out, it would be to get the mail or do grocery shopping or go to the blasted mall. In short, it was a typical case of cabin fever.

Now, Chris on the other hand has gotten into wine tasting. It started with a book that I got him for Christmas, "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course". Next thing I knew, my husband was leafing through the issues of Food & Wine while sipping espressos at Barnes&Noble and spending money on esoteric accessories such as a professional bottle opener and a decanter.

While working in Deland, Chris found out about the Elusive Grape wine store. He used to spend his lunch breaks there, talking to the owner, Bill, or sitting in one of the overstuffed chair in the back of the store with an old issue of a Wine Spectator. Most of the time he would emerge from the store carrying a brown paper bag with a bottle or two. Chris even signed up for a 5-week Wine Appreciation course at a local community college. And so our spare closet was converted into a wine-cellar, our Wednesday nights at B&N were moved to Thursdays, and our wine glasses were filled with Merlots, Shirazes, and Cabernets on most evenings.

And that's how we ended up at the Elusive Grape's wine event a couple of days ago. We paid $10 each, got our glasses and duly entered our names in a raffle. Inside, a 100 or so people, all middle-aged and all with glasses in hand, were standing in the ailes between the wine racks, crowding around the counter, occupying every nook and crany of the lounge, and even spilling over to the sidewalk and into the back alley. Deland is a small town and most of the guests knew not only each other, but each other's friends, bosses, and most family members several generations back. We were clearly the outsiders. Feeling slightly (read: very) uncomfortable in this convivial atmosphere, I was pretending to study the labels while tasting some red wine. As I said, I can't tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet, nor can I taste smoky flavor, ripe cherries, leather or any other tastes that supposedly are present in wine (I guess part of the problem is that I never bothered to spend time munching on BBQ chips or licking leather belts). My wine descriptives are generally limited to "dry, spicy, sweet, fruity, watery, and bitter". If it's not too dry or bitter, it's a good wine as far as I'm concerned. (here's a good article).

Nevertheless, things started looking up as I discovered the Chocolate Amore, a dessert Merlot with a distinct flavor and taste of all the warmth and spicyness of a raising-and-hazelnut dark chocolate bar. Now, that was a find worth the money! Perfectly content, I retired to the lounge with my perfect wine while Chris was breaking "one bottle at a time" rule and buying half the store's inventory. I forgave him for his acquisition included a bottle of my new chocolate obsession.

Soon enough we started some perfectly delightful and non-commital conversation with some perfectly middle-aged people. Hours later we emerged from the store into the perfect summery breeze and quietness, walked along the perfectly quaint streets of Downtown Deland back to our perfect little economy-size answer to the rising gas prices, and drove 30 perfectly safe miles back to our perfectly simple and inviting house.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another Trip to NY - Part 2 (Parents)

Ok, so this part is long overdue. But my work has been really crazy lately. I even had to work until 7pm a couple of days. Of course, by now the details of our stay in NY faded and are of little interest to anyone. Let's just say that it rained non-stop for our entire stay in NY. So instead of going to the City or to experience some great outdoors in rural NY or PA, we divided our time between devouring my Mom's cooking and window-shopping at the Garden State Mall. Speaking of Mom's cooking, as if non-stop eating wasn't enough, we stopped by the Rockland Bakery on our last day in New York. There you can actually enter the production area and grab fresh out of the oven bread right off the conveyor. Not to mention that you can try all sorts of bread there for free as long as you don't take it outside. If you want to take it outside, you got to pay for it. Rules are rules and so we spent some time there stuffing our faces with deliciously fresh walnut-raising rolls.

To be fair, the weather cleared up for about 30 minutes on Sunday and we used that time to go on a walk around the Rockland Lake. We got there, got out of the car, and walked for about 200 yards when it started raining again. But I did get to take a couple of pictures.

At home, my parents provided us with non-stop entertainment of their own. Let me tell you, I doubt anyone else would be able to create a non-stop buzz out of half-finished dialogs, laughter, petty quarrelling, phone calls, and background TV noise that the way my folks do it. And then sometimes my brother would join our beehive as well. In short, it was a short, loud, and cozy visit.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Another trip to NY - Part 1 (the drive)

Last weekend Chris and I went to NY to visit my parents. Of course, they don't live in the City, that would be too expensive and crazy. Instead, they live in a typical burb in Rockland County, 30 miles away from the excitement.

Now, we decided to drive to NY instead of flying. Flying costs a lot. And even with the gas prices being what they are, driving is still cheaper for us. But between Daytona Beach, FL and New City, NY it's a lot of miles. It was kind of exciting driving there the first time. The second time wasn't too bad either. But after a couple more trips back and forth, one tends to loose any interest in the scenery and attractions along the I-95.

The South-North drive goes something like this:

Florida - we set the car on autopilot and drive with our eyes closed. After all, we drove this portion countless times. We open our eyes only to admire Jacksonville's skyline and its famous blue bridge. It is a very nice skyline that makes you want to move to Jacksonville to work in one of the downtown highrises and after work cross its bridges heading eastward, towards the oceanside neighborhoods. This is very misleading because Jacksonville has very little to offer except for red-necks, heavy traffic, suburban sprawl (it is the largest city in the US by land area) and one of the highest murder rates in the country. Of course, none of this information is listed on the city's website (except for it being the largest city by land area). So just trust me on this - don't move there!

Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina - this is the longest and the most boring part of the drive. I-95 doesn't go through any big cities there and stays mostly uncrowded. It becomes a 4-lane highway with a wide wooded zone separating North and South directions. The roadside is either an endless grassy marsh, easily identifiable by the smell of rotten eggs, or a dense woodline of mostly palmetto bushes and pine trees. The only two things that break the monotony of the drive are the billboards and the road construction. I don't know what the deal is with road construction in these states. I never see anyone actually working there. But the lines of orange and white traffic barrels stretch for miles and sleepy drivers are sure to get a jolt driving at 75mph over the patched roadways. This is a huge distraction to my favorite road game - counting the "South of the Border" billboards. Now, the billboards in this tri-state area are pretty boring. They are very old-fashioned and rarely rise higher than 20 feet or so. They don't show as much color, sprite, or sex appeal as the boards up North. I guess, they are built with a traffic-less highway and a bored driver in mind because they have almost no pictures, but force you to actually read. Most of these billboards advertise chain hotels, endless Cracker Barrells, BBQ restaurants, roadside strip clubs (windowless shacks no bigger than a one-bedroom house that sprout in the middle of nowhere and make one think of scenes from "Deliverance"), and discounted cigarettes. The only exception to this are the "South of the Border" billboards advertising all different ways Pedro can entertain you. At first they appear every 10 miles or so, but soon they are seen more and more often, counting down miles and even fractions of a mile to this Pedroland. It can only be compared to a Ron Jon Surf Shop billboard assault for those driving to Cocoa Beach on I-95 South. And just like the surf shop, the "South of the Border" amusement park/hotel/conference center/restaurant/fireworks store is kitchy, mostly empty, and infinitely disappointing. So just trust me on this - read the billboards (some are pretty clever) and skip the exit!

Virginia - Things start happening here - there are more lanes on the highway, more traffic, more signs to historical attractions, and no palm trees at all. This also marks the half-way point of our trip and unless we drive straight through we stop here for the night. I highly recommend Hampton Inn for its upscale interior design, highspeed Internet, super-comfortable mattresses and the most delicious little omelets that come with a hearty breakfast. In general, driving anywhere in the US makes me very appreciative. I generally love adventure and quirky attractions. But there are some things that I prefer to be as predictable as possible - clean restrooms with unlimited toilet paper along the way or Starbucks coffee, for example. The kind of stuff that most people here take for granted until they end up in another country, desperately looking for a WC only to find out that you have to pay to get in and the only toilet paper available is the used one (yes, it is gross, but I'm keeping it real). Driving also lets one appreciate how many wealthy people are in the US. High gas prices nonwithstanding, they chug along in huge RVs, sometimes towing an SUV or a boat, going South in the winter and North in the summer. And the rest of us shouldn't be jelous because we are reacher than most people on this planet. Otherwise how would one explain huge 18-wheelers rushing at neckbreaking speeds to deliver goodies to Publixes, Wal-Marts, and Home Depots all over the country.

Maryland - One must stay very alert because a lot of things start happening here. First of, the bathrooms at local gas stations stop being predictably nice. Some of them even stop being, period. On the way back we had to stop at a couple of the gas stations off of Baltimore-Washington Parkway before we actually found one that was open, reasonably clean, and could be locked from the inside. But if you stay on the Interstate, things actually improve with appearance of Service Stations, one-stop-shops with large restrooms, a food court, and a gas station or two with their own convenience stores. Imagine - all this and you don't even have to get off the highway! Of course, maitaining services like this costs money. And so tolls are introduced. The first toll on the way up North is around Baltimore. It's $2.00 and you get to drive in a pretty cool-looking tunnel for a minute or two. Another thing that happens in Maryland is highway patrol. I mean, of course, every state has them, but these guys are especially vicious in Maryland. They park the cars in the median, get out and literally flag down speeding cars right out of the left lane. Nobody goes the speed limit on I-95, so they must be making a killing on a traffic-free day. Lesson learned - stay in the middle lane.

Washington, DC - It's like right in the middle of Maryland. More traffic and construction. Don't leave I-95 trying to catch a glimpse of the national monuments - you will see the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument, but would have to pay for it dearly driving through slums for 30 minutes or so. Don't be fooled into taking a scenic ride along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It starts out innocently enough with tree groves, stone retaining walls, and the complete absence of billboards. But just as you start enjoying the boucolic views while getting all misty-eyed about the glorious job our National Park Service does here, it takes you right into the slums. But then again, we're talking about Washington, DC which is mostly a slum.

Delaware - ok, that's the state that really screws you. You only drive in it for about 18 miles, but you pay 2 (!) substantial tolls (about $3.00 each) for this privelege. Other states have "Welcome!" signs while Delaware has a state-of-the-art toll booth. Of course, the big attraction is to see Wilmington, DE - the town that gets more than half of our paycheck. But they cheat you here too. Of course, plenty of corporations are registered in Delaware, but not that many have headquarters there. Or maybe they try to keep low profile to avoid inevitable retribution from angry credit-card holders. Either way, Wilmington isn't much to look at.

Pennsilvania - ok-ok, we could take New Jersey Turnpike straight from Delaware, but we missed it and ended up stuck in traffic around Philadelphia.

New Jersey - Officially, the most irritating state to drive through. First, you get on New Jersey Turnpike, then - on Garden State Parkway. Either way, you get stuck in traffic. In Florida, if there's traffic it means somewhere out there there's an accident. It might even be clear on the other side of the highway, so everyone is rubber-necking, but it's there. In Jersey, traffic is existential in nature. That's just how things are in this state. Both the Turnpike and the Parkway are toll roads and we end up paying around $7.00 for going less than 200 miles. And they still can't fix their traffic situation?! But at the same time getting gas in New Jersey is a great experience. First of, it's much cheaper than anywhere else. Second, you don't have to get out of the car; an attendant will pump it for you and process the payment. And finally, they have LukOil gas stations and it makes me proud for my Motherland. Also, New Jersey wins a trophy for a state with least diverse license plates. They are all yellow and white and say New Jersey on them. No one tries to save the dolphins or manatees or express pride for being in the Armed Forces, graduating from college, or routing for the winning team. There are almost no plates from other states either, which just proves the point that the only people that find New Jersey tolerable are New Jerseyers themselves (and yes, it's a real word - I looked it up on Google).

New York - my parents live almost right on the border with New Jersey. We only get to drive about 2-3 miles on I-95 in New York. So we get off the highway after almost 17 hours of driving, standing in traffic, driving some more, getting mad, bored, sleepy, and irritated. Only 10-15 more minutes of relatively sane and definitely scenic (spring time in New York State) drive and we arrive to my parents' house!

P.S. To get an idea of what our drive home was like, just read this post from bottom to top.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pie in the Sky

America is a great country! You don't have to be a John Travolta to own a plane. Ordinary people, average Joes and Janes, can with some studying get their private pilot license, buy a plane, and fly to Iowa for a family reunion or to Bahamas for a weekend of scuba-diving. Hundreds of thousands of little planes are available for purchase - new and used, historical replicas and real vintage things, planes that land on land and planes that land on water, planes ready to fly and planes in kits waiting to be assembled and even little helicopters.

Now, just as dog owners have dog shows, bikers have the Bike Week, and pumpkin growers have the Cirleville Pumpkin Show , the airplane owners and owner-wanna-bees have airshows and fly-ins. One of the most famous small plane shows is the AirVenture held annually in Oshkosh. Of course, that's in Wisconsin.

It would be really surprising if Florida did not have some kind of an airshow, right? I mean, we have everything else here (except for mountains, snow, and good-paying jobs). And so of course, we have the Sun-n-Fun airshow and fly-in held annually in Lakeland. AirVenture-shmareventure, our event even sounds cooler! Now, an airshow of this kind is not just an airshow. First, it lasts a whole week. Second, air performances with all the fly-bys, aerobatics, wing-walkers, precision flying, and such are held every single day of the week. Third, besides an airshow itself various exibits, classes, swap meets, and other events are held daily for everyone to enjoy.

Of course, Lakeland is 2 hours away from us. And the admission to the show is $30 per person once you get there. Neither Chris nor I are small aviation enthusiasts. So how come we ended up at the Lakeland Airport last Saturday and willingly paid $60 for something we had little interest in? It's elementary, my dear Watson! My father, who is a big general aviation enthusiast, drove all the way from New York just for this show.

My father used to fly little YK planes when he was young and impressionate. I have no clear idea as to what happened back then that effectively ended his pilot career, but I believe it involved some kind of a prank or probably even several that he pulled during his flight training. And so he got kicked out at some point. But, as they say in cheesy novels, the dream stayed alive in the young man's heart. Of course, being that my Dad lived in the Soviet Union, there was no way for him to fulfil his dream of flying outside a para-military flight school. And so the dream curled up snuggly in his cerebral cortex (or wherever these things are stored) and took a long nap.

It was awakened with Dad's arrival to the US, the land of unlimited possibilities. And it became particularly strong once Dad turned 60 and both my brother and I were semi-established on our way to that pie in the sky commonly known as The American Success Story. To make the long story short, the dream reared its ugly head and took posession of my Dad. He started spending long hours on Internet searching for good deals on planes and became a regular on eBay. He talked of FAA regulations, torque, altitudes and cross-country flights. He even started saving money. Of course, he understood his limitations, both financial and linguistic. So he set his sight low - on a no-license-required category of ultra-lights.

It would be a mistake to think that these things are cheap. Of course, compared to a Cessna, a $12,000 price tag is really a bargain. But let's not forget that $12,000 effectively buys you a motorized chair with a 5-gallon jerrican of gasoline underneath, a swamp-boat propeller strapped to its back and an oversized kite on top that keeps you from falling 500 or so feet to the ground. Of course, there are plenty of schools and clubs throughout the United States where one can pay money and experience a solo or a tandem flight on one of these things. But my Dad has been in the US long enough now to catch the ownership bug. And so he came to Florida to find an ultra-light of his dream. We followed.

The day we went to the show was hot, sunny, and very windy. After walking a bit around the ultra-lights, we left Dad and a couple of his friends and made our way to the airfield. There was but little time to spare as the skydivers drifted slowly on their canopies signaling the start of the daily airshow. As we tried to get closer to the stands, we passed a field of small planes parked neatly in rows with the camping tents taking the space between them. Just like on a regular camping trip, their owners were sleeping, snacking, sunning themselves, or in one case rocking in a hammock carefully hung under a wing. In short, it was very Norman Rockwell.

The closer we got to the airfield, the more crowded it got. Keeping one eye on a 11-plane formation flight, we passed by a showcase of military planes. It was a little bit weird to see people sitting under the guns of an F-15, hiding from the sun; children, excitedly watching the show from its wings; and a young Air Force pilot smiling good-naturadely while posing for a picture. It was weird because somewhere thousands of miles away another F-15 was probably executing a less friendly mission bringing fear and pain to both adults and children in its path.

After walking aimlessly for a little while trying to find some shade, we finally saw a patch of grass that was not only shaded by a wing of a small plane, but was miraculously unclaimed by anyone else. As far as we could see it had no trash or signs of spilled beverages or melted ice-cream either. We sat there and watched several great aerobatic performances for some time before my Dad called. He was done with the ultra-lights and was looking for us. After much confusion ("let's meet by a small plane, the yellow and red one") we finally found each other. Dad was very tired and sun-burnt. His leg was bothering him and he was limping more noticeably than usual. And so instead of returning to our seats, we tried to find something nearby.

Luckily, we were next to a row of YK planes that were flying in a show earlier. We stretched out on the grass under a red-star studded wing and watched the rest of the show. At some point the owners of the plane, two men from Tennessee, showed up and Dad started a conversation with them. The airshow was almost over. And of course, the best or at least the most impressive, was saved for last. We watched as the American newest figher plane, the F22-Raptor, took off, completed several fly-bys and performed some aerobatics. Finally it was joined by an F-15 and a P-51 for the final fly-by.

The show was over and everyone headed home. Most people shlepped to the parking lots. Ultra-light owners were disassembling their flying chairs and carrying the propellers to their trucks. The real planes lined up at the runaway waiting to take off.

On the way home we stopped to buy some freshly-picked strawberries. There are tons of strawberry fields in and around Lakeland. It is the heart of the strawberry country, so to say. For 6 dollars we bought a big cardboard box full of freshly-picked strawberries. And so, in a strawberry-smelling car, we sped up to I-4 in a vain attempt to beat its eternal traffic.

A big box of strawberries proved a bit too much for us. We ate the berries ourselves and force-fed them to guests, we gave them away to friends, and had them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and occassional munch attacks. But there was no end to them. We even baked a strawberry shortcake. Days later we still had a couple of pounds of berries in the refrigerator.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A boring lunch break

What is the difference between Xander, my cat, and a loquat?

This sounds like a stupid question. But if you think about it, both are round, orange in color, sweet and soft. But of course, there are important differences that one must be aware of. Xander is furry and a loquat's smooth skin is covered with fuzz. Xander can jump up and down and sideways, while a loquat can only fall down. Xander chases lizards and birds, but a loquat is indifferent to both. Finally, Xander is raised inside a house and is pretty much useless. A loquat grows outside and is used in landscaping as well as for eating.

One of the pictures here is of a loquat and the other one - of Xander. Thanks to my little explanation you will never get mixed up over which one to eat and which one to pet.

But that's not it! This is Ponce Inlet Lighthouse as seen last Saturday from a park in New Smyrna Beach. I also saw a family of dolphins there, but they were too hard to photograph. So just use your imagination.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Why "2"? Because I wrote the first "COLD HARD CASH" entry on Monday, but just as I was about to post it the electricity went out with a bang, literally and so all my efforts were erased. Lesson learned - "Save as Draft" button comes in handy after all.

So needless to say that I was extremely pissed. It took me two days to get over this and I've still not come to terms with what happened on Monday. Besides, it was a really nice story that I wrote.

In my description of an opera, Rossinni's "The Barber of Seville", I described, quite eloquently, the feeling of smug content with life, universe and everything that one experiences watching, free of charge, a very good performance of a great opera. Yes, that was the last performance of the 2005-2006 International Series presented by the Daytona Beach Symphony Society. And it was the last time in the foreseeable future that we got to go to a major cultural event for free. Therefore, I lamented in my last post, that from now on we must pay COLD HARD CASH to enjoy theatrical performances here in Daytona Beach, a town not known for its student or military discounts.

In my original post that didn't survive the blackout, I also provided an entertaining description of our trip to the SkyVenture Orlando, an indoor skydiving attraction. It would be useless to try to re-create my story again. Да, рукописи может и не горят, но электронные статьи точно исчезают без следа. So now noone, except for myself, Chris, Albina and her daughter Bianca, will know how great it was to float 10-15 feet off the floor in a 250-mile per hour wind inside a pressurized tunnel. Noone will know how difficult it is to stay afloat and not crawl on the floor like some bottom-feeder in a fish tank. Nor will I explain again how even the smallest movement throws you off balance and make you twist and turn and fly all over the chamber, hitting the glass walls and generally providing entertainment to the spectators outside. The only thing that I will repeat is that high price non-withstanding ($20/minute for an introductory 2-minute session), it is tons of fun and is worth doing at least once. For more than that we'll need, once again, COLD HARD CASH.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bike Week 2006

What is a Bike Week, you ask me? It's another manifestation of an American love affair with all things loud and gas-consuming. It's a city-wide celebration of the three Bs - bikes, boobs, and beer. It's a mostly red-neck festival of loud pipes, leather chaps worn over bikini bottoms, five-dollar cans of Bud (if you count a tip), live music performances, and politically incorrect T-shirts. It's a Spring Break for yer old, bald, fat and ugly. It's a party that goes on for 10 days, 24 hours a day and that brings close to 500,000 people into Daytona Beach and its environs.

Yes, it is true that every year the Bike Week grows more diverse. There are more young people attending, more women, more black folks, more Northerners, and more foreigners. But overwhelmingly it's a red-neck and Southern event through and through, at least for now.

Now, let's get something straight right away. First of all, what goes on at the International Speedway during these 10 days should not be referred to as Bike Week. It's a commercialized event heavy on big names in motorworld and stinking of corporate America. I'm not saying don't go. By all means do, if you want to see some pretty darn good bike racing or test-drive a nice new Buell, Harley, or BMW. Nor am I saying not to go to the Daytona Flea Market, just around the corner from the Speedway, a great place for fresh fruits and vegetables, kitchy souveniers, a daily motorcycle stunt show and a swap meet. Nor am I advising you against going to Ridgewood Ave, lined up with souvenier stalls, for some shopping, to Ormond Beach for some old-fashioned Harley experience, or to Samsula for a night of female cole-slaw restling. All I'm saying is if you want a real party, go to Main Street. And that's exactly what Chris and I did last Saturday.

First, we went to a free concert at the bandshell on the beach. It's really a very nice place with great ocean views. Plus there are several restaurants, a Marble Slab Creamery, a Starbucks, and a large movie theater. So first we watched the concert and then decided to get some coffee for Chris at the Starbucks (see picture).

Then we slowly made our way along the beach to Main Street for the big party. As usual, it was jam-packed with bikes and people. To get a temporary relief from streams of leather-clad human flesh we stopped by a couple of bars. Now, there are several that are a must-do during Bike Week. Dirty Harry's is famous for it's thrice-daily wet T-shirt contest. Any woman is welcome to give it a try. There are usually 5-6 contestants per show - 1-2 "heifers", 1-2 desperate housewives in their last attempt to get attention to their overly tanned, wrinkly and sagging body-parts, and a couple of wayward college chicks drunk off their behinds at 2PM on a hot Saturday afternoon. The boobs are all freshly enlarged, except on the "heifers", with the white stretchmarks and the bluish veins forming a "Stars and Stripes"-like patterns. It's all good to most of the spectators who haven't been sober since last Monday.

A good place for food and music is the Full Moon. They always have a huge stage set up outdoors with rock concerts going on pretty much non-stop. The food is fresh and abundant if not cheap. A plate of shredded beef with rice and veggies will set you back $15. Better go for a flavorfull turkey leg, as big as your head or a jumbo hotdog generously smothered in ketchup, mustard, and relish. You have two choices here. You can take your food inside a dark saloon, away from the blistering afternoon sun, with the floors a bit sticky from all the spilled beers (and hopefully not from something else). Or you can grab one of the bar tables outside, preferrably away from the stage and under an umbrella and watch other patrons getting their pictures with the smiling beer girls. They are believe it or not one of the best-looking ones that the Bike Week can offer.

Froggies is a fun place too. Right of the bat, you are offered a good spanking from a couple of scantly-clad chicks. They do it for tips, administering the "punishment" with a rather heavy hand, according to the suckers that pay to be belted in public. Once inside though there isn't much to do, but drink. I don't really know if they have any concerts there at all. But the music is loud and in the evenings there are dancing girls, the stripper-wanna-be ones, shacking their money-makers on little baby-blue platforms.

Finally, no trip to the Bike Week is complete without visiting the Boot Hill Saloon. It's right across the street from an old cemetery which explains their motto "Better Here Than Across the Street". And who can argue with that! It is indeed better at the Boot Hill than almost anywhere else on Main Street. First of, they have probably the best-designed T-shirts and ladies love wearing them too. Second, even though their beer girls are not the prietiest bunch, they sure dress the best or should I say, the least, always setting the fashion for Bike Weeks to come. They ditched T-shirt and bikini tops in favor of underware and pasties years ago. Since then, the pasties got progressively smaller while the body parts under them - progressively bigger (evidently, plastic surgeries are becoming more affordable; I think Wal-Mart should look into the opportunity). I bet $10 that next year it's all going to be nothing but some body-paint. But apart from girls, they do play some good-old country music and their performers are most engaging. Then again, how can one not want to join in signing the "Gang Bang" song?!

And what about the bikes, you ask? Well, what about them? With so much going on, bikes are constantly in the background. The stream of riders along Main Street never lets up. The lucky ones manage to find a free parking spot along the street. Others drive slowly through to A1A and funnel out, seeking $5 parking spaces around the neighborhood. If you enjoy Discovery and TLC channels' shows about custom-built bikes, you'll see a lot of that here as well. Lately trikes and bikes with side-cars are all the rage. But pretty much any bike with custom paint, outrageous accessories, or nice detailing (including girls in the back) draws attention and countless camera flashes. Many people come to the Bike Week every year. Many bring the same motorcycles so occassionally we get to see a familiar "face" (paint job). Many people bring their bikes here to sell and the price tags range from $4800 to $75000.

Now for the men that drive these bikes. They sport beer-bellies of various sizes, facial hair, wear black Bike Week-themed T-shirts or muscle shirts, have a beer in one hand and a digital camera in the other. They show various stages of farmer's tan, from lobster-red (most often) to leathery brown, and many - elaborate tatooes. Of course, this description applies to a lot of Bike Week women. So here's a tell-tale sign - no make-up and loose-fitting jeans mean it's a dude. There are some extreme cases, of course.

But overall, you gotta love the Bike Week. It's loud, obnoxious, in-your-face, and expensive to go to. But here in Daytona Beach, where the rest of the year we live on a set of the "Cocoon", it feels great!