April 2007


As much as I like the XV6700 as a PDA, it’s not a very good cell phone. It’s hard to hear when you’re outside and it has a nasty habit of dropping incoming calls. It works better in an EVDO area (Verizon’s high speed data network), but it still is not as polished¬†a phone as it is a PDA. The proverbial straw was the fact it refused to play nicely with the BMW Bluetooth setup in my new X5. It was still hard to hear other folks and they all said they couldn’t hear me very well. So I took Verizon up on the offer for an upgrade from my old V710 to a new Motorola Razr (V3m).

Razr

The Razr is very light, has large, easy to push keys, and most importantly for my aging eyes, it’s easy to read. No problems dialing now. It’s on the list of supported BMW Bluetooth phones, so it paired right up with the system in my car and works perfectly. Now I can hear folks and they can hear me loud and clear. It has a mini-SD card (TransFlash) tucked away behind the battery, so I can store images from the camera on it and retrieve them later. Some folks don’t like the location of the mini-SD, but I think it’s a big improvement over the SD card in my VX6700, which is spring loaded into the top of the phone and will eject forcefully if push at the wrong time. There’s no chance of accidentally losing the mini-SD in the Razr. And surprisingly enough for a cell phone, it even takes pretty decent pictures. ūüėé

UIUC Quad

Ok, so I’m mixing sports. Still, anytime the Red Sox can sweep a series with the Yankmees, it deserves mention. And setting a team record of four consecutive homers was fun to watch, although I’m disappointed that Willy Mo didn’t send one into the Charles to make it¬†five in a row. Sox are looking good this seas….er, wait a minute. Last time I raved about them on this blog they immediately nose dived into oblivion. Maybe I’ll shut up now.¬† ūüėČ

And because it deserves repeating: Jonathon Papelbon is a god. ūüėé

Truer words were never spoken. Sarah and I were out at a really surprisingly good restaurant down the highway from us tonight (see Greasy Spoons) and they had the Red Sox/Yankmees game on the TVs over the bar. I got to keep an eye on the game and was pretty disappointed to see the Red Sox about to slip into a tie for 1st place in the AL East with the bums in stripes. It was 6-2 against going into the 8th when we left the restaurant. As soon as we got home, I turned on ESPN to just catch the analysts talking about a great come-from-behind win for the Red Sox. Arrrrrghhh. I missed it. Oh well, still better than a loss.

Yogi Berra is a genius, btw. 8)

In March we were walking around in shorts and t-shirts. It hit 80 degrees a couple of days. Now in the middle of April, we’re back to winter. If you look closely at the pictures below, you can see the snow flakes falling. Miserable day out there.¬† ūüôĀ

Spring Snow

Sping Snow

I like the idea of convertibles. Wind in your hair, sun on your face, the feeling of freedom. But the few times I’ve driven one I was not so enamored. Some cause uncomfortable buffeting around¬†my head, like being smacked repeatedly with pillows. The wind noise really aggravates my tinnitus, so my ears ring loudly for hours afterward. My face is already paying the price of too much sun exposure in my youth, so that’s not such a good thing. And once you put the top up, the road noise is really bad. True, you can buy a high end ragtop and avoid many of these problem. A nice BMW 6 Series cabriolet, for instance. But that, sadly, will probably always be beyond my financial grasp.

I like the idea of Scotch. A nice single malt aged in port barrels with that perfect golden brown color always looks so inviting. Pour some over ice, admire the color, read about the history of the distillation (maybe 12 years in the making), and then take a sip. ACK!!! COUGH!!! GASP!!! What the…..?!?!¬† I guess I’ll always be a Scotch admirer from a distance.

I like the idea of running every morning. Just like in the Army. Get up and out early, fresh morning air, a mist rising off the fields, jogging at a nice pace, breathing comfortably, maybe work up a nice sweat. Then I remember the times I’ve tried to take up running again; the burning lungs, the agonizing shin splints, the strained Achilles tendon, running out of steam¬†2 miles from home, the looks people driving by give you (“Look at the old fart trying to get in shape”), and I shelve the idea once again and promise myself I’ll take up walking again when the weather gets warmer.

I like the idea of skiing. Standing at the top of a run with new snow and freshly waxed skis, gorgeous winter scenery stretching out for miles in every direction, a¬†nip in the air and brilliant sunshine reflecting off the snow. Push off and head down the slope. Then suddenly the wind rushing past your ears reminds you that you really aren’t very good at this and you still don’t know how to turn gracefully. So you lurch and twist and look like you’re trying to ski wearing a body cast and right as you think you might make it down safely, some punk on a snowboard¬†blasts by and showers you with snow, sending you sprawling and sliding downhill on your back while your skis wait patiently upslope for you to plod back up and retrieve them. Then later your dream of hanging out by the fire and having a few drinks lasts only long enough for you to finish one drink before your tired old¬†body falls asleep.

I like the idea of landscaping. I’m actually pretty good at it and have had really nice looking lawns and gardens in my past. But since moving to Illinois I seem to have lost the will to spend so many hours on my hands and knees digging up weeds and chasing down moles. I have a lawn company fertilize and de-grub, and I still mow, but that’s the extent of my efforts. Still, my lawn looks better than any other in the neighborhood. And maybe that’s another part of it. In Massachusetts I lived on a cul-de-sac and all my neighbors had beautiful lawns, so there was a sense of keeping up with the Joneses. Not so out here.

I like the idea of a spotlessly clean car. When I was a kid and had my first car, I would spend hours and hours washing and waxing until it was as shiny as it could be. My friends and I had a running competition to see who could get their windows the cleanest. We’d inspect each other’s windshields for the slightest smudge. And there’s nothing like the looks of a highly polished black car. But it will only look that way until you drive it once. Out here in corn country, the bugs are so thick that I’ve had to stop at a rest area to clean them off my windshield so I could see. When I wash my car, I know it will be covered in bugs and road tar and dust by the time I get to work the next day. I’ve taken to buying silver cars because they show dirt the least.

I like the idea of cooking. I love good food and I’m always fascinated by folks who can effortlessly create delicious meals. It always looks so easy and clean on TV. Then I try to whip up something special and end up with a kitchen resembling the back end of a trash truck. I usually burn one item while waiting for the other to be done. Timing is everything in cooking. Then I cut my finger or spill something or realize I’m missing a key ingredient. And finally, when I’ve finished laboring for hours and we sit down to eat, it’s over and done with in less time than it took to tape the recipe to the fridge. So much easier to go out to a nice restaurant and have someone else do the work.

It may not feel like it, but it’s baseball season again.¬†The hopes of¬†Red Sox Nation¬†begin anew.¬†Yesterday the¬†Sox bats were colder than the weather. Shame, too, because Wakefield pitched well.¬†Here’s hoping they have a great game for Tuesday’s home opener.¬†¬† ūüėé

Believe

Update: Sox lost again to the Rangers, the ‘Ruins lost their last game (disastrous season), and the Celtics lost. Heck of a day to be a Boston sports fan.¬†¬† ūüôĀ

Update (Sun, 4/8): Jonathan¬†Papelbon is a god.¬† ūüôā

Since moving out to central Illinois a tad over 5 years ago, I’ve slowly started to accept the fact that I’m going to be here for a long time. The simple truth is, Sarah and I can live more comfortably here than we can back east. There are several reasons for this. One, we both¬†earn really decent money. Two, the cost of housing is way, way lower than out east. Our house will be paid off in about 12 years and it doesn’t kill us to come up with the mortgage payment every month. Plus we own¬†nearly 9,000 books, so if we were to move, we’d need another 4 bedroom home to accomodate them.¬†Three, the university system here has an awesome retirement plan. And for me at least, retirement is no longer that far distant star on the horizon. So we’re stuck here. Still, there are things I really miss about New England. And there are things I really do not miss about New England.

Things I miss:

1. Seafood. Sure, you can get seafood here, but it is nowhere near as good or as diverse as what you can get in New England. Things like fishcakes are simply not available here. I’d love to have a place like Durgin Park pub¬†to go for a quick lunch of fishcakes and beans.

2. The ocean. When I first joined the military and moved away from the ocean, it bothered me for many years. When I came back on leave, the first thing I’d do, not matter how tired I was, would be to jump in the car and head down to Nantasket Beach to just stand and take in the view and the smell. It took me many years of being away to get over that need to be near the ocean every once in a while.¬†I still miss it, though.

3. The mountains. When I was a kid, my folks would take us up to North Conway several times every year.¬†I love that area. I still carry a balsam “smelly bag” in my car to remind me of the forests there. And I check Hazecam¬†and the Mount Washington summit cam¬†on a daily basis, just to see what the weather is like “back home.”

4. Bookstores. We have Borders and B&N and Pages for All Ages here, but they’re in Champaign. Too far to go at night when we’re bored at home. Back east there’s always a bookstore a short drive away, it seems.

5. Dunkin Donuts. There’s nothing like the smell of Dunkin Donuts and coffee. I don’t really like their coffee and¬†I avoid donuts for the most part (I love donuts, but they are evil things), but even driving by the half dozen¬†donut shops on the 1.5 miles trip from¬†Rt 24¬†to Bridgewater State College, you could smell the combination of coffee and donuts.

6. Really good Asian food. Especially The Chatta Box. There are a couple pretty good Thai places here, but the Chinese food isn’t nearly as good and there simply is no place that does Mango Stir Fried Chicken like The Chatta Box.

7. Boston. ‘Nuff said.

8. Easier travel. The flight from Boston to London is nearly 3 hours shorter than the flight from Chicago. Cheaper, too. Same goes for Bermuda. There are¬†also far more diverse local travel opporunities, such as the aforementioned New Hampshire. Out here you have to drive two hours to get to a major city and even they are surrounded by more cornfields. Chicago is a three hour trip for us and it’s beginning to grow on us, but as far as mountains or ocean? Fuggedaboutit.

9. Foliage. Autumn just isn’t the same out here.

10. Cain’s condiments. May sound silly, but I really miss Cain’s products like mayo, relish, tartar sauce, etc. You can’t get them anywhere but New England.

11. Convenience stores that are…well, convenient. The ones here are few and far between and don’t carry things like half-and-half. I was dismayed when I got out here and found you couldn’t buy half-and-half anyplace but a supermarket. And it’s always in the farthest corner from the entrance.

12. Vehicle inspections. Ok, maybe not the inspection itself, but at least the idea that your vehicle should meet certain standards. Out here the first thing every pickup truck owner does is strip the exhaust system out. I’ve seen brand new pickups that sound like they just dropped a muffler at the last pothole. I’ve also seen cars that look like they were just pieced together from various junkyards.

13. Kettle ponds. There’s nothing like a nice, clear, calm kettle pond surrounded by sandy soil and scrub pines. Anything resembling a pond here is either square, having been a source of fill for an overpass or something, or it sits behind a dam. Most get downright nasty in the summer due to the lack of fresh feedwater. I miss places like Little Pond in Plymouth or Lake Chocorua in Tamworth, New Hampshire.

14. Hills. Or even just a change in elevation. Something to block the view of the horizon. A tree, maybe.

15. Last but certainly not least, family. I talk to my folks all the time, but I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I’d like. They’re not getting any younger and I know a day will come when I’ll be furious with myself for not having¬†found a way to spend more time with them. We see Sarah’s folks a couple time a year, but I’m sure she’d rather have more time with them as well.

Things I don’t miss:

1. Traffic. If I’m more than two cars back from a traffic light here, I grouse about the heavy traffic. And unless there’s a wreck or some serious construction during a heavy travel period, you simply don’t get bumper-to-bumper around here. Trips to Chicago age me by years because of the traffic. I’d love to be calm and collected in traffic, but it actually causes physical discomfort for me to sit staring at a sea of tailights.

2. Winters. The winters here can be brutally cold and because of the drifting and melt/freeze cycles, an inch of snow can really mess up commuting for days. But overall we’ve had far milder winters than they’ve had back east, so I’m not complaining.

3. The ridiculous cost of housing. We own a 2400SF, four bedroom home on a wooded acre of land. We paid about $164k for it and if it were to go on the market today, it’d still be about that much. I periodically check the real estate ads from Massachusetts and I’m still seeing tiny old capes going for $300k in Taunton. Give me a break.

4. Crowds. It’s rare to be packed in here. We’ve been to quite a few movies recently and none were anywhere near half full. The malls usually aren’t bad either and for the most part, you can get away with little or no wait at restaurants even without reservations.

5. Traffic. Just because it needs to be mentioned again.

6. Gary La Pierre. While I generally liked WBZ (I can still pick it up from outside Sarah’s library), I couldn’t stand that pontificating putz.

7. Boston. ‘Nuff said.

8. Excise tax. I always hated paying that. It seemed they got you when you bought your car, every time you filled the tank, anytime you traveled west, and once a year just for good measure. I’m sure the same tax is hidden somewhere else out here, but at least it’s not in my face.

9.¬†Abutting towns. In Massachusetts the only thing between neighboring towns is a sign with the respective town name on each side.¬† For the most part there was no open space between towns, especially closer to Boston. Out here you know when you’ve left town.

10. Outrageous parking fees. Here the most expensive parking is on campus where I work (sad, but true). I can park at¬†the Indy airport for $5/day. I¬†think Boston’s Logan airport charges that for an hour.¬†

11. Oil heat. Worst way ever invented to heat a house. Nasty stuff and horribly expensive to clean up in the event of a spill. Our heat pump and gas assist furnace works just fine and is a heck of a lot cleaner and easier to maintain.

12. Driving in the breakdown lane. What moron thought that was a good idea?

13. Manhole covers. Last time we were in CT, I was reminded of the annoyance of hitting manhole covers which had sunk below the level of the roadway (which is just about all of them). Few, if any, manhole covers here.

14. Inane blue laws. Massachusetts has some of the nation’s oldest and dumbest blue laws. Need beer on a Sunday? Tough, unless you live near the NH border. And now you can’t even ship wine to Massachusetts. For years I’ve been sending my folks wine baskets for birthdays and such, but no more. The best legislature money can buy has decided to end that right. Thanks a bunch. Someday maybe they’ll explain who besides the liquor distributors benefits from such a move.

As you can see, there are (barely)¬†more things I miss than not. But things I don’t miss are biggies. Did I mention I hate traffic? Still, I’d like to find a way to get back there more often. I’d take my folks down to Plymouth Harbor to¬†have some great fishcakes at Isaac’s and then stop by The Chatta Box on the way back through Bridgewater for some take-out. ūüėé