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Andy Weir and the Artemis Book Launch at the USS Intrepid

November 16, 2017 1 comment

Greetings, readers!

I have a very exciting update. This past Tuesday, my fiancee Anastasia and I took a trip to New York City. We had two main goals: belatedly celebrate our one year engagement anniversary and to meet Andy Weir, author of The Martian, at the launch event of his new book Artemis. I am happy to say that we accomplished both!

The first thing we did upon our arrival in New York was to grab a taxi and get to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. This was where I had proposed to Anastasia last October. We wanted to visit the museum again because, let’s face it, being on an aircraft carrier is freakin’ awesome and the Space Shuttle Enterprise is always worth a visit when you’re in New York.

The special exhibit for the museum was about Drones, and I really recommend it if you find yourself in New York and have an interest in the history and possible future of drone technology. It’s not a large exhibit, but as part of the whole museum it’s a great add-on.

Here we are, looking at Drones, with Ana taking a bunch of selfies. Look at that huge white hair in my beard, just taunting me.

They had some really impressive displays in the exhibit, including the Navy’s Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH).

My hopes that with would be an awesome exhibit were not DASH-ed. *Crickets* I’m here all week.

After touring the exhibit on drones, we made our way into the Intrepid to get up to the flight deck, because why take an elevator when you can get lost in a massive ship with winding hallways and narrow stairs? The way up to the flight deck through the ship takes you past some really cool pieces, such as old gun placements.

On the flight deck. The weather was much the same as it was the day I proposed–rainy and cold. The good thing is that this time Ana remembered to bring her own jacket.

Of course, you also have to spend time appreciating the planes that the museum has on the flight deck. In the picture above you can see the A-12–the black plane–behind an F-16 Fighting Falcon. I especially like the A-12, a spy plane which is the forerunner to the SR-71 Blackbird.

I don’t like what they were designed for, but I do like the engineering and science behind them.

I think what I really like about the museum is that it just sits on the pier in the Hudson River, giving you a great view of Manhattan. To be honest, every time I go to New York my jaw still drops at just how huge the city is, so I’m pretty much amazed at any view of the city. I’m a country bumpkin.

Seriously, how can you not love this?

There’s also a storage company across the street from the pier, and it has some really clever advertisements. A lot of the attraction of the museum is the space component, which you can find in the space shuttle pavilion where they store the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

That’s some really clever marketing.

After we spent some time in the space shuttle pavilion, marveling at the Enterprise (and after Ana purchased a glow-in-the-dark “Caturn” t-shirt), we hopped in a cab and set out to visit the main branch of the New York Public Library. I had wanted to visit for some time, and we had some time to do it before the Andy Weir book launch. It’s a really special place, and if I were ever in New York City for some time I would definitely find myself in one of the reading rooms.

Afterward, we stopped at the gift shop to marvel at some of the trinkets, including these Einstein statues with little moving hands.

He knows something, doesn’t he?

Of course, we both started to get hungry. Ana was set on getting tea, so we walked a few blocks to Maison Kayser, a french Boulangerie. The food was delicious, the staff was friendly and efficient, and the setting was intimate. We hunkered down there and ate at a leisure pace.

Mmm…A french version of a club sandwich. Includes everything an American club sandwich has, plus an egg.

We arrived back at the Intrepid museum complex just as they were opening the doors to get in. Since we already had our tickets we were able to get in fairly quickly. We were ushered into an elevator to get to the flight deck strait away as the event was being held in the space shuttle pavilion. As we reached the top, and the elevator doors opened, a prerecorded voice said, “going down,” of course just an automated message played when the elevator moves. One of the people in the elevator with us said, “that’s not something you want to hear on an aircraft carrier.” Laughs were had by all.

We picked our seats by the stage where Andy would be interviewed, and Ana got a free beer from 212 Brewing Company. It was a pale ale, both hoppy and delicious. It wasn’t long before Andy arrived in the pavilion, and he was generous with his time in interacting with his fans. Ana asked him a question about The Martian, and he provided an answer that was thoughtful and not rushed. She also mentioned it was our anniversary (though he called us liars–jokingly, of course!–because it wasn’t really our anniversary).

The Belarussian, the Martian, and the Author.

After he met with the fans, he conducted a short interview for a podcast (I’m not sure which one).

I didn’t hear the interview, but I expect it was sufficiently nerdy.

I really liked the entire scene. Ana and I sat under the left wing of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, on the deck of the USS Intrepid, to listen to Andy Weir talk about his writing process, Artemis, and a host of other interesting details relating to being a writer, getting published, and the science behind the books. Two things which I really appreciated: 1) his remarks about world-building in his stories, and how it’s vital to them. In fact, he explained that Artemis started as him building the world in the novel, and then writing the story around that. 2) The fact that he described the perspective of his books as being “first-person smartass.” A man after my own heart, but also very practical; people are much more tolerant of exposition when it comes from a voice that they like. Andy has a talent for that, as he very easily slides science into the narrative without you really knowing that you’re being SCIENCED!

The shuttle itself is actually much bigger than the picture would suggest. (I tried to rewrite this statement several times and failed to make it not suggestive.)

Finally, after the talk was over, we got in line to get our books autographed.

According to Ana, I’m a pushover.

Andy, as always, we friendly and gracious. He even remembered us from earlier, and wished us a happy anniversary. Ana showed him her beat-up copy of The Martian, which, as she readily explains, she took to the top of a volcano in Hawaii to read. Apparently it provided a really neat setting for the book and provided a certain level of immersion in it. Andy, of course, said he loved books that were “well-loved,” while pretending to crack the spine of my book which was in pristine shape (I am…obsessive about keeping my books in good condition). I jokingly said, “that’s a good way to get the table flipped over,” which he laughed at, providing me no small relief because it could have been received wrong.

It was a very great anniversary, and I can’t imagine that I would ever do something as nerdy and fantastic as this with anyone other than Ana. I look forward to the many more geeky adventures with her, the woman I first met in a science fiction literature class.

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Moving to Philadelphia

August 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Despite almost two months of exploration, Philadelphia remains enigmatic. I didn’t really have a clear idea as to what I was expecting when I moved here from Lansing, Michigan in early June, but the city does have a storied reputation. Certain persons familiar with the culture warned me that my special brand of Midwestern charm wouldn’t play well in the land of cheesesteaks and cracked copper bells. This proved to be true in part, but I think that’s just a consequence of large cities with a lot of people (assholes) living closely together.

It’s a city that, in many respects, stands outside of time even as new buildings rise in the skyline. A visit to the Independence National Historic Park is a trip to the past. You’re greeted by actors in period garb who speak in a language fitting the time, and you’re treated to fairly awe-inspiring artifacts of American history. The charm of Revolutionary America is juxtaposed against a modern metropolis, but as you learn more about the city you see the facade slowly drop. If the “historic” buildings weren’t rebuilt based on the originals, they languished for many years in various states of disrepair. And, sadly, this aura permeates the city in one form or another.

I don’t mean to be too critical. I have really enjoyed living in Philadelphia so far, and compared to where I came from in Michigan there’s always something to do or to see. The fact is, however, that Philadelphia is also trapped by time. From the rows of houses that are over a hundred years old to the disrepair of the roads and sidewalks, the city needs a fresh coat of paint. Beyond modernizing some of the older parts of the city, I don’t know what that means. I think that the city would lose much of its character if it were to bulldoze older buildings to rebuild. However, it would be nice not to trip and hurt yourself because the bricks on the sidewalk jut out at odd angles.

The actual move here was a comedy of errors, built on a foundation of inexperience and some bad luck. My fiancee, Anastasia, who is finishing her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, provided the main motivation to transplant myself. Prior to this move I had never lived in a city as big as Philadelphia, and had never moved beyond the borders of Michigan.

In the past I had thought about moving. Lansing felt stifling, and though it is the capital city of Michigan, it doesn’t have that much going for it. Back in the day, before Michigan lost much of its car manufacturing base, Lansing was home to many General Motors plants and factories. Several other factories that supported the automobile industry also flourished, and the rails that now sit rusty and unused transported materials through the city and the state. Maybe it’s just time playing tricks on me, but the promise of Lansing seems a relic of the past. It felt so much bigger and alive when I was a child growing up there. If anything symbolizes Lansing now, the corrupt state legislature that finds its home there wins the prize. The legislative body’s infamy brings us such fine examples of healthy democratic debate as the time that they censored a female State Representative for saying the word “vagina” during a women’s health discussion.

Obviously, I needed something more. I didn’t really get the kick in the pants I needed until April of 2016, when I was diagnosed with nonrheumatic mitral valve stenosis. Initially I shrugged my shoulders and threw it into my collection of heart conditions. In late 2016, after suffering from bouts of tachycardia, hypertension, and fairly severe chest pain I started taking the beta-blocker metoprolol. All of this is to say that a black hole spaghettified any doubt or reservations I had about leaving.

Last October I took a trip with Anastasia to New York City, where I proposed next to the USS Intrepid. We had thrown around the idea for a while. I asked her before we took the trip, and I told her about my plan to give her a suitable amount of time to ponder her answer before I presented the ring and asked. Tethering your life to another’s is a huge decision, obviously, and I wouldn’t want anyone to make it on the fly in a situation where they’re put in the spotlight.

My proposal did not go as planned for two reasons: 1) New York City was soggy (as can be seen in the picture on the left) and 2) I do not like to do things in front of other people (which is strange for someone who ran for public office and used to perform stand-up comedy). My plan to propose on the flight deck was scrapped on account of the proposal-hating precipitation. I altered the plan to propose in the Star Trek Academy Experience in honor of our nature as irredeemable geeks. Sadly other people had the impudence to explore the Academy.

So I proposed next to the Intrepid at twilight, under the faint orange glow of light emanating from posts on the pier. I removed a ring box from my pocked with the Starfleet Insignia on the top, and as I opened it I asked “Engage?” The ring I presented was in the shape of the Starship Enterprise. Yes, the weather and the annoying people sharing the museum with us rued the day they tried to foil my plans.

At this point I didn’t have any solid plans about moving to Philadelphia, despite the engagement and the newfound bond I shared with Anastasia. At first we kept the whole enterprise hidden in fear that people would disapprove (I also kept the engagement hidden from everyone but my mother and Anastasia for the same reason, which proved to be entirely unnecessary). As future husband and wife, we conspired together to make the move to the City of Brotherly Love happen sometime within the next year.

Now we’re skipping ahead to early June to avoid boring you with tedious issues. I had given my boss a month’s advance notice of my departure, said my good-byes, and packed most of my junk. I made the trip with my mother and her boyfriend, and despite what I thought was a sufficient plan the trip was plagued with problems from the start. A few days before, I had paid a mechanic to change my oil and serpentine belt and take a look at the engine. Pretty responsible, right?

Wrong. I apparently forgot to ask them to rotate the tires and look at the brakes. Oh, how this would come back to haunt me. Most of the trip was uneventful. Pennsylvania’s splendor suitably impressed me, sure, but it’s a long trip from Lansing, through Ohio, and across the entire state of Pennsylvania. Somewhere outside of Harrisburg I heard a mysterious whine issuing from the front left area of my car. Great, I thought. It’s either the brake or a bearing. I had a definitive answer when the whine turned into a grind just an hour away from Philadelphia. At this point I grew anxious and hoped, vainly, we could get the car to my house before the rotor took any damage.

We had entered Philadelphia, and were a mere half a mile away from my house, but luck was not on my side. Right by Independence Hall the car lurched to a stop as the wheel locked up. A sound not unlike the wail of a moose with laryngitis emanated from the car, attracting the attention of several pedestrians. The stop and go traffic of the city, and the ensuing use of the brakes, had led to the gouging of the rotor. We resolved to drive the car to the house, whether or not it wanted to, and it did not want to go. I had to drive it around the city for a few days while I googled mechanics to have it repaired, and apart from the shrieking protests of the brake grinding against the rotor, the car suffered no additional harm. Total damage: about $735 to have the rotors, brake pads, and calipers replaced.

We manged to get the car fixed before we had to get to a wedding near Boston. Our route took us through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and finally Massachusetts and we suffered no incident. Anastasia and I both enjoyed the wedding, a version of a traditional Hindu ceremony, in which we witnessed the joining of a very close friend of mine from the University of Michigan, Nidhi Shrivastava, with her long-time boyfriend. We stayed over night and gorged on delicious Indian food.

Our path back to Philadelphia copied the route there fairly closely, but in reverse. Somewhere in New York, Anastasia’s Google Maps app took it upon itself to decide that because the New Jersey Turnpike had a four minute delay, we would need to reroute to bypass it. Anastasia said at the time, “this route takes us closer to New York City than I’d like,” but we essentially shrugged our shoulders and continued to drive. I’m sure that my astute readers can tell where this is going. As we ventured further into New York traffic started to get thicker and slow down. A sign caught my attention: we had entered the Bronx.

Uh-oh.

I turned to Anastasia and I said, “We’re in the Bronx. Why are we in the Bronx?” She looked at the cursed Google Maps app. The damn thing had noted that small delay on the turnpike and decided, “Hey, you know what would be a gas? Let’s route these innocent Midwesterners through the Bronx and Manhattan. That won’t be terrifying at all.”

I dreaded the idea of driving through Manhattan. I fretted as I drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic, next to a guy in some late-90’s convertible who loved his expletives. But Anastasia threw me a lifeline: I only had to drive along 9A by Hudson Heights, get onto the George Washington Bridge, and cross over the Hudson River and into New Jersey. How hard could that be? I need only to go through a small northern chunk of Manhattan, not anywhere near the rage–inducing streets of the island proper.

Let me tell you something, dear reader. I have a head that has more white hair than my youth might suggest. That short drive through that sliver of Manhattan easily added more salt to my pepper. Two problems plagued me, the first of which involved the colossal number cars on the road in an unfamiliar place. I had only been to Manhattan once before, and I certainly hadn’t driven through its hellish avenues. The second problem revolved around my lack of aggressiveness, and I barely made it into the lane I needed for the lower level of the bridge.

I found my spine as I wound the loop to get on the bridge and imposed myself between two cars with what might be construed as a lack of politeness, but definitely comfortably below the threshold for malice aforethought. We crossed Martha with the skyline of Manhattan to our left and New Jersey in front of us, my impolitic maneuvering soon forgotten. Dear reader, I made a promise to myself and to my 2002 Pontiac Bonneville: never again.

I drove easier on the New Jerkey (oops, that totally wasn’t intentional, I swear) Turnpike, and along the way we spotted a Lamborghini. I’d like to say that I was an adult, possessed of a mature outlook on life. But that would be a lie. I pretended to race the Lamborghini, and cheered myself when I pulled into the lead. So now I can say that I raced a Lamborghini with a fifteen year-old Pontiac and won. It’s my personal fish story. “The Lamborghini was thiiiiiiis fast,” I’ll say, waving my hand from left to right as fast as possible. I come from a long line of people who love their fish stories.

Shortly after our hair-raising drive back home from Boston, Anastasia and I took a trip to Long Beach Island, which I wrote about here. The next great adventure, my first trip to Paris, will be documented in a future installment.

For now, I want to thank you for reading my blog. I welcome any feedback in the comments, or by email at arushedjoke@gmail.com.