Tick Tales of Misery and Occasional Ecstasy

June 17, 2010

The Divorce

Filed under: My Past, personal, Social — Tags: , , , , , — thetick @ 12:30 pm

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, mostly because of the Divorce. I really didn’t want to put anything out in public that could possibly cause me problems. The good news is, the divorce is over, and sooner than expected.

Here’s how it happened: The biggest delay was that the ex could not think of anything except staying on my insurance. I am pretty sure that fact, along with her lawyers trying to run up a big bill and get me to pay it, were the major causes of the huge delays. A Temporary Orders hearing at the end of January did not compel me to pay for her legal fees, which caused her attorneys to quit. At that time, there were several deadlines for turning in paperwork, as well as a date for the final hearing. The final hearing was scheduled for September, with a backup hearing date in June. My attorneys kept filing paperwork as ordered, and since a good attorney costs a lot of money, I was running up a huge debt. This caused my attorneys to also file a motion to quit.

At this time, I decided that something HAD to be done. There was no way I could get another attorney, since the first thing a good attorney does is check the case history and see what has happened before. They would also contact my previous attorney and ask why they quit. A lawyer generally doesn’t take a case when there is a history of non payment. So I bit the bullet, and called the ex-to-be. I explained what was going on, and that if we did not reach a settlement before the hearing for my attorneys to quit, neither of us would have representation and neither of us knew how to finish the damn thing. We would be standing before a judge, effectively saying, “What do we do now?” Generally speaking, Judges would rather judge than teach people how to get a divorce.

I finally got the ex to agree, in writing via email, to terms for the divorce. But the hearing date was rapidly approaching. I was a mess. My attorney was not returning calls, the ex was avoiding me, and things were just taking too long. I finally got the attorney to agree to draw up the Final Decree of Divorce and I got it to the ex via email. All she had to do was print it out and sign it in front of a Notary. There was only a week left, and she has a history of NOT doing things she needs to do in a timely manner. Since she had to sign the papers and also get the original to my attorney, PLUS show up in Court on the day of the Withdrawal Hearing in order to finalize everything, there were just too many variables, a failure of any single one of them would be disastrous. Since I was 1300 miles away, all I could do was send emails and make phone calls. But if I was there, I could actually make sure shit got done. I knew that I could eliminate all of the variables if I was there.  So, I drove to Texas.

I made good time, and left a voice mail with the ex the night before I would arrive telling her that I would be there around mid-day Thursday. She still had not done the things she needed to do, and the hearing was on Tuesday. My attorney needed the original paperwork on Friday to prepare for the hearing. I drove straight to the house where she still was living with her parents. No cars in the driveway, no answer at the door, no dog barking.  I walked around to the back of the house, I thought she might be out on the back porch smoking. No such luck. I was pissed. I thought that she had gotten my voice mail and had gone somewhere to avoid me. I called her cell phone, no answer. I called her Dad’s cell, then her Mom’s with the same result. I thought about driving to where her mom worked, then just called there instead. Her mom gave me permission to go around and pound on the back door since the ex was probably still asleep and her room is closer to the back door than the front. I finally got her up by pounding on the door that led from the porch to her room.

She still had not gone over her copy of the Decree. She wasn’t even sure if she knew where it was. Keep in mind, this is all taking place at about one in the afternoon. For me, the clock is ticking down rapidly. I had four hours to go over the paperwork, get her dressed (she was still in her nightgown while talking to me) get her to a bank to have the paperwork notarized, and then drive to my attorneys office to deliver the original signed document. After that, I could head to Houston to see my friends and have a great weekend before going back to Fort Worth for the hearing on Tuesday.

For an hour, page by page, we go over every single line item in the decree, which was the same as what she had already agreed to, except now it was in legal terms. That was what I was doing. Explaining legal terms. Finally, we get to the end and I ask her if she still agrees, and she says she does, but… She still wants to go over it with her Dad instead of just me. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I just want someone else to look at it,” she said. “So when will that be?” I asked. “This evening.”

I did NOT want to do that. If I could get it signed and to the lawyer, I wouldn’t have to spend the money on another night in a hotel. I asked if there was any way we could go to where her Dad was working and they could go over it. She started texting, and finally got an answer that yes, he could take a break and go over the papers with her. A half hour later, she was dressed (an all time record) and we were on the way down the highway. We meet up with her dad, and they leave me in the parking lot to go inside to review the papers. I sent an email to the attorneys telling them what was going on and telling them that I should have the papers signed, but I may be later than 5 o’clock getting them to their office. I knew that they often worked late, and was hoping that would be the case that night. I got a couple of phone calls from the X2B for clarification about things, sent a couple of text messages asking how much longer, and the clock continued to move forward.

My phone rang, and the caller ID said that it was my attorneys office. It was the secondary, cheaper attorney. She asked me if I would be willing to stay the night in Fort Worth, since she had called the Court and could get me in at 8:30 the next morning to “prove up” the divorce and it would be over, the Tuesday hearing would not be necessary. I emphatically told her yes. I believe it was a HELL YES! The only thing was that X2B wanted to attend the hearing, and I didn’t know if she would agree. Technically, only one of us had to be there, but I still am not a big enough asshole to just do it without telling her. I told the lawyer I would call back shortly, and sent another text to X2B. We were running out of time. She finally came back with her dad, who said that he only had one suggestion, and it was really minor. An ass-covering clause that he thought should be inserted over a very unlikely possible event. I told them both about the hearing the next morning, and her dad said he could take her to the court house. I offered to give her a ride home afterward so he could go straight to work. So it was agreed.

As we were driving off, I called the attorney back and told her to get us on the schedule, and that we were on the way to the bank to get the papers signed and notarized and I should be at their office just before five. We go to my bank, since X2B doesn’t have an account anywhere, and wait for ten minutes for someone to notarize the decree. The kid (probably only about 20) wouldn’t notarize the papers because X2B’s only ID is an out of state ID only (not a drivers license) that expired 2 years ago. I called the attorney back, and asked if they had someone on staff that could do the job without a current ID. She told me yes, and she asked someone to stick around until we got there.

The drive over was weird. For some reason, X2B decided that it would be a good time to talk about the good times we had in the marriage. OK, so maybe that isn’t so weird, but the good times she wanted to discuss were the good times we had in bed. We got to the attorneys office, and everything went as smooth as possible. Oh, and my backup attorney, the very nice lady who took it upon herself to get everything over with sooner than scheduled, was absolutely positively smokin’ hot.

Papers signed, notarized, copies made, hearing scheduled. After MONTHS, I start to relax. I am in a good mood. The weight of the world has been lifted from the shoulders of this puny Atlas. Also, we are hungry. I had promised to feed X2B in return for making the drive to Dallas with me to get all this done. She asks me if there is anyplace in particular I want to go, since there is a lot of good food in Texas that I just cant get up north. I am trying to decide between the Mongolian Grill, the Deli that has a great muffaletta, or some decent Mexican food. X2B tells me about a great place that they went on her birthday a couple of weeks prior, but cant remember the name of it. So she calls her mom, who kind of invites herself along and says that she will call her husband to meet us there. In other words, the night before the divorce will be final, I am having dinner with my ex-to-be in laws. And it was weird. We were all talking and joking and telling funny stories like the past two years never happened. Just another family dinner. There was one point when I felt sorry for X2B. We were sitting across from each other, and the cute little waitress seemed to take a liking to me. Every time she came to the table, she stood by me, resting her hand on my shoulder as she talked, joking with me and even giving me a hug. I noticed that X2B kept staring at her dinner when that happened. Finally, dinner was over, and I paid for X2B, and we parted ways.

Twelve hours later, I was at the courthouse. The attorney showed up soon after, and then X2B. I only had one concern left: that X2B would say something stupid, thinking it was clever, and the judge wouldn’t grant the divorce. This was a real possibility. The night before, when we were signing the papers at the attorneys office, the lawyer had asked a standard question: “Are you signing these papers of your own free will, and state that you have not been coerced in any way?” X2B answered, “Well, it’s not like I have any choice in the matter.” The lawyer had to ask her to clarify, and X2b said that she only meant that it was going to happen one way or another, so she may as well sign. I told her on the way to dinner that she couldn’t answer questions like that in front of the judge, since we had not attended the court ordered mediation the judge may not grant the divorce and we would be back to square one. I told the attorney that if it was possible, not to give X2B a chance to talk to or be questioned by the judge. She agreed with my reasoning.

Our case was called, and my attorney and I approached the bench. My lawyer asked me standard questions, which were easy to answer since she had written them down on a piece of paper along with the answers and we were both following along. We finally got to the end, and the lawyer had to ask, according to the rules, if my wife was present. I answered and was asked to point her out. The Judge said “Oh! She’s here? Come on up!” X2B came up and was sworn in. My heart was pounding, since my lawyer had told the Judge that X2B was pro se, meaning she had no lawyer, and I was afraid that the judge would kind of act on her behalf. The judge just asked two questions: “Have you heard all of the testimony your husband has given?” and “If you were asked the same questions, would you answer the same way?” She answered yes to the first, and after a slight hesitation that my heart stopped for, answered yes to the second. The Judge said very well, I hereby grant this divorce and good luck to both of you.

My attorney went and got the official signature and an official copy for both of us, and we left the court house. It was finally over, I was divorced. I gave THE EX a ride home, buying her breakfast from the McDonald’s drive-thru before dropping her off. I just now realized, that the day we got married, we got food from a McDonald’s drive-thru right after that, too. It seems fitting, somehow.

I went back to the hotel, changed clothes and drove to Houston a free man. There was much celebration for the next two days before I left for home.

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December 1, 2009

Convergence

Filed under: personal — Tags: — thetick @ 1:08 pm

Merriam Webster describes converge as:

1 : to tend or move toward one point or one another : come together : meet <converging paths>
2 : to come together and unite in a common interest or focus
3 : to approach a limit as the number of terms increases without limit <the series converges>

Their definition of convergence is more scientific in nature, mathematical. For me, convergence is when situations and actions all hit at the time. It could be something great, you go on vacation to a city you have never been to and run into an old friend who is doing the same thing. Your paths converged; that unlikely meeting in an unlikely place with an unlikely person.

More often, convergence is best described as the old cliché “things always happen in three’s.” Usually when you hear this, it has a negative connotation. For instance, celebrity or political deaths. Catastrophes. A hurricane hits and across the world, an earthquake shortly followed by a tsunami. It’s rare that there is any kind of connection between these things, but they become connected in the public consciousness since they all happened at the same time.

I have had a number of different convergences in my life. A little over a year ago, I had a job offer at the same time as another fortuitous event that allowed me to accomplish something that I was beginning to wonder would ever happen. It was like playing three slot machines at the same time and having them all hit big. You whoop, you holler, you thank Lady Luck and you cash in and move on.

Now, I am faced with the other kind of convergence, the bad things happening in three’s.  When these things happen to you personally, you wonder what the hell you did to deserve this. Any one of these things are difficult enough on their own, but manageable. Any single one you can deal with. Each a disaster, to be sure, but nothing bigger than you have dealt with before and managed to come out OK. It’s when more than one of these happens at the same time that people lose it. You try to deal with them all at the same time, and it’s just too much. You decide to tackle each one in order of importance, in the order of greatest to least emergency. But in the back of your head, you still think about the others. The solutions you find for the immediate crisis takes away a solution to the next.  You try to figure out a way to squeeze your mental, emotional and financial resources so that you can deal with the two most critical of the situations, and realize that you are now tapped out of all your resources, and you still have a third one to deal with.

This is where most people lose it. This is when people get overwhelmed. The thought that you can’t fix them all, and that they absolutely have to be fixed, causes short circuits in the brain. The train of thought runs on a circular track, and the engine is stuck on full throttle. No matter how fast you go, you still wind up exactly where you started. So you sit down, force yourself to try to think differently, separate each of the issues into their own track. Before long, you have done it. You can now think of each issue separately, except now you have three circular tracks in your head, engines running full throttle. It’s a lot to keep track of, but you manage. You focus on track number one, then switch to track number two, then three. You try to re-lay the tracks so that they don’t run in circles anymore, that they have a destination, a solution. It’s just now you realize it. You understand. While you have separated the tracks into individual issues, you see that at some point, they all intersect at the same junction. The trains race around, so fast they are hard to see, let alone manage. Three speeding blurs in your head, racing around and around.

And now all you can think of is when you played with Hot Wheels as a kid. There was an intersection on those tracks, too. And you remember the commercial that caused you to beg for that set for Christmas. And you remember that one of the main selling points was that, at some point, there would be a spectacular crash. You figuratively stare at your racing trains in your head, flinch every time one crosses the intersection, try to see where the others are, try to brace yourself for the crash you know is inevitable. Maybe if you slow this one down, then speed that one up, leave the third where it is, you can achieve some kind of synchronicity where the crash wont happen. It’s a complex problem, one that demands your full attention. You focus, you adjust, you try to manipulate. Finally, maybe, you have everything set to where the crash wont happen.

But the trains, the problems, each individual crisis is still happening. You’ve tried so hard to avoid the crash, you haven’t even noticed that the goddamn trains are running so fast that even though they won’t collide at the intersection, they are in serious danger of running off the tracks. All of your efforts to avoid a pileup hasn’t addressed the issue of the rapidly revolving trains. Worse still, you realize that any efforts to address an issue individually will alter the carefully planned schedule, and you are right back where you started.

It’s enough to cause madness, this convergence. You cross the line. You stop trying to deal with the trains. You know its going to happen. You can’t stop it. All you can do is watch in horror, waiting, preemptively mourning the loss of sanity you are powerless to prevent. You watch. You don’t do anything anymore but watch. You try to walk away, but the problems are yours, they aren’t going anywhere. You ask your friends to take a look, but they can’t see any way out of it either. They want to help, they offer to help. But they can’t. All they can do, ultimately, is watch with you. It becomes a morbid fascination, watching the racing trains. You no longer wonder how to stop it, you wonder when it will happen. You start hoping it will happen. You start hoping the disaster would just hurry up and get it over with, because you just cant watch it anymore. It’s too draining, keeping up with everything, hoping and fearing that every crossing of the intersection will end it. Feeling like it would just be easier to clean up after the train wreck than it is trying to prevent it.

And one day, trying to deal with it all, you decide to empty your head into a keyboard, and realize that you spent almost 1200 words describing what could be summed up with one simple internet derived acronym:

FML

September 1, 2009

Visits and Vacation Part 6

Filed under: personal — Tags: , , — thetick @ 12:51 pm

I woke up early, but not as early as usual on Wednesday. I showered and W was up by the time I was done. We got our stuff ready and had breakfast at my favorite diner again, and then we headed out to Shenandoah National Park. We stopped along the way and filled up the gas tank and got drinks and snack foods, and we were in the park fairly early.

We stopped at every overlook, snapping pictures, and stopped at the first Visitor’s Center. I found the Passport to Your National Parks book, and almost bought it. I have always been around National Parks, and have been to more than most people. I was seriously thinking about buying the super duper deluxe edition, but since it was fifty dollars, I opted not to. They also had several small pamphlets describing all the trails in the park, and W chose three. The waterfalls hikes, the short hikes and the easy hikes. She started reviewing them as we drove, but she kept getting distracted by scenery, so I just pulled over and she went through all of the books, marking the ones she wanted to hike. The first one wasn’t too far away, so we drove along seeing the sights and pulling in at the overlooks until we got to the trailhead.

We got out of the car and hoofed it down the trail. The trail was described as a relatively easy hike with two overlooks. The second overlook was the end of the trail, and then you retrace your footsteps back to the parking area. It was a narrow trail, what I would call a game trail. Things were going good, it was a little warm, but not hot, and we found the first overlook about a half mile in. We stood on the rocks, took a few pictures, and then continued up the trail towards the second overlook. W was leading the way, me right behind her.

Suddenly, W stopped and let out a noise of surprise and started backing up. Then I heard it: the sound familiar to anyone who has ever seen a western movie. The buzzzz of a rattlesnake tail. I started backing up to give W more room, and she backed over a rock and fell. I helped her to her feet and we backed up a bit more, staring at the Timber Rattlesnake that she had come within two feet of stepping on. It had been stretched into the trail, but it was now coiled in classic rattlesnake position, tail continuing to buzz. I could see at least 8 rattles on its tail, and it was as big around as my forearm. We took a couple of blurry pictures, and the snake calmed down. It was still coiled and staring, but the tail wasn’t buzzing anymore.

“We don’t need to see the second overlook,” W said. I agreed, and we started walking back down the trail, this time with me in the lead. Apparently, I was not paying close enough attention to the trail at my feet, looking around at the scenery, so W took the lead again. I had my GPS on my belt, the first time I had really had a chance to use it since I bought it, and had just finished looking at it to see how far from the car we were and clipping it back on my belt when W stopped and made her surprise and alarm noise again and stopped in the middle of the trail. I heard a crashing noise, and looked up to see a black bear go crashing through some brush just off the trail and stop about fifty feet away. As we stood there, we saw another bear about thirty yards away, just looking at us. I was in the process of trying to remember bear protocol. I knew that for one kind of bear, you make a lot of noise, and for another, you try to be quiet so you don’t startle it into rushing you. The problem was, I couldn’t remember which you did for grizzly and which you did for black and brown bears. “I can’t remember what we’re supposed to do…” I whispered. W looked at me with very round eyes. “Don’t tell me that!” she whispered back. Finally, we started slowly making our way down the trail past the bears, keeping our eyes on them. After we rounded a bend and they were no longer in sight, I told W that we could now start walking quicker.

According to the GPS, we had been averaging about 1.8 mph walking in. As I tried to keep up with W, the GPS showed 3.8 mph. We only had to walk a few minutes and we were back at the car. I started it up to get the AC going, and got some water to drink. W was pacing back and forth across the parking area. I stood there, watching with amusement, and she stopped pacing long enough to yell at me. “Would you stop dealing with this so calmly so I don’t feel so stupid?!” Finally, she calmed down enough to stop pacing and we got in the car and went up the road.

“So, where is the next one?” I asked.

“Nope. No more hiking. Overlooks only.”

So that’s what we did. We stopped at different overlooks, and soon we were at the area where I had a room reserved. I checked us in, and we put our stuff in the room. We sat for a bit, then decided to do some more looking around. We went farther into the park and got to Big Meadows. W decided that we could hike there, since there were no trees or bushes to hide big animals. We walked around the meadow and only found one deer hiding in a copse of trees. What we did find in great abundance were gnats. They were everywhere, getting in W’s hair, in my eyelashes, and pictures we took in the area were covered in black dots. We decided that enough was enough and we went back to the car. We were also starting to get a bit hungry. We went back to the room and talked for a bit, then went into the restaurant.

I will say this for the restaurant: it was expensive, like I expected it to be, but the food was possibly the best I have had in a National Park. Of course, that does not include the Huckleberry Sweet Bread that you can get in the lodge at Tower Junction in Yellowstone, but that is in a class all by itself, so you can’t really use it as a basis for comparison. After dinner, we walked down a little trail to try and find the area we were told we could build a fire. The plan was to make smores, and we had bought a kit that included the chocolate, graham crackers and sticks. We found the area, but the hill was so steep that W decided to hang out by the fire pit while I went and got the car. We went back to the room and sat out on the porch enjoying the cooler temperature and waiting until we weren’t so full from dinner to make and eat smores. It started to rain, and didn’t look like it was going to let up, so we gave up on the whole smores thing.

About 3 in the morning, it was raining so hard that it woke me up. I was actually able to fall back asleep this time.

Next time… Southern Shenandoah National Park.

August 25, 2009

Visits and Vacation Part 5

Filed under: personal — Tags: , , , — thetick @ 11:40 am

I woke up at five Tuesday morning. I tried to fall back asleep, but it just wasn’t happening. For one, the guy in the next room had his iPhone charging right next to the connecting door. I heard him get a text message, then go to the bathroom. About five minutes after that, I heard him leave his room, slamming the door, and the ding of the elevators right outside our door. Five minutes after that, the alarm on his left behind iPhone went off. I now know that the alarm on an iPhone will go off for thirty minutes before shutting itself off.

I gave up on falling back asleep and got dressed to head down to the street for a cigarette. As I stood on the sidewalk, I was amazed at how many people were walking around. People still dressed in the clothes from the night before, as evidenced by the two women in clubbing attire down the street talking to two of New York’s finest. There were also people in their business attire, heading into Grand Central terminal. After people watching for a bit, I went back to the room.

W was slowly waking up as I sat in the chair in the room trying to figure out how to deal with the dilemma about the car. The parking lot did not have in/out privileges, and I had until almost six p.m. before I would have to pay for another day. I had to be checked out of the room by eleven. I did not want to get the car out of parking, since finding any other parking would be extremely difficult. But I didn’t want to wander around NYC toting our luggage either. W and I discussed this after she was awake, and I finally had an epiphany. We were staying right next to Grand Central Terminal, and every spy movie I had ever seen set in NYC had somebody leaving items in a locker in Grand Central Terminal. So, we decided to get up, get ready to head out and wander over to see Grand Central Terminal and check out the locker situation. We packed everything up and left it in the room before we headed out to see the terminal and get breakfast.

Grand Central Terminal is indeed grand. The first thing I saw was the clock in the middle of the room, the same one that Melvin gets stuck on his head in the movie Madagascar. We took a few pictures, marveled at the building, and then looked for lockers. I couldn’t see any lockers, and I couldn’t see any signs directing people to lockers. So, being the smart guy that I am, I asked for information about lockers at the information kiosk under the clock. I was informed that the lockers we all removed after 9/11. Crap. I pulled out the parking claim check from my pocket and called the number I was supposed to call thirty minutes prior to needing my car. The nice lady told me that I could absolutely have my luggage put into the car without checking the car out. Just bring it by with my claim ticket, and they would take care of it.

We went to breakfast across the street at the Pershing Square café, and I was again astounded by not only the service, but the quality of the food. After an excellent breakfast, we went back across the street and retrieved the luggage from our room. We dropped it off at the parking booth and made our way to Times Square. I loved walking in New York. I finally found an entire city of people who walked the same way I do, with purpose. These people had a destination in mind, and they were focused on getting there with as few obstacles impeding their progress as possible. The signs telling you to walk or don’t walk go mostly ignored, you walk when there isn’t a car about to run you down, no matter what color the light is.

Times Square was great, they have blocked off vehicle traffic, so you can walk right out into the street. I figured that everyone there was probably a tourist, so I had no problem walking right out in the middle and taking picture after picture. After taking in the sights, we decided that we just had to go into the Toys “backwards R” Us store. I had to see the Lego’s. They were awesome, HUGE replicas of the iconic NYC buildings built out of Lego’s. The Empire State Building even had a Lego King Kong climbing it. There was an entire section devoted to Jurassic Park, which I thought was no longer relevant, but it was worth it to see the life sized Tyrannosaurus Rex that moved, blinked and roared. We went inside the life sized Barbie Dream House, and looked at the Ferris Wheel, where all the cars were based on a toy of some kind. Toy Story, Scooby Doo, Mr. and Mrs. Potato head, Barbie… all of the big names were represented. We finally had seen everything we could think of in this toy store, and headed out. Again using the awesome power of the iPhone and its GPS, we made our way down 6th Avenue trying to find Rockefeller Plaza. We finally stumbled across it looking for someplace to get a drink and finding ourselves in an imported chocolate store instead. The fifteen dollars worth of chocolate, which fit into a dime bag, was gone before I had the receipt signed.

We kept walking towards Central Park, since we wanted to see the Apple Store and FAO Schwarz where the piano from the movie Big is located. We got to 5th Avenue and 58th, and took the glass elevator down into the Apple Store. We sat in the air conditioned comfort for a while, but eventually decided that looking around wasn’t necessary since we already knew most of the Apple product line. We took the glass spiral staircase back up to street level, and I realized that we had never checked out of the hotel. It was just after 11, and I was sure I was about to be charged for another night. It was way too far to walk, and even getting a cab would take too long. I remembered that when I had checked my email on my phone earlier, I had received one from the hotel offering web checkout. I stood in front of the Apple store and used my Apple iPhone to log into my mail and check out of the hotel. The money that I saved by doing that more than made up the cost of the phone. I have mentioned my iPhone a lot in this post, and will continue to do so since it is so awesome.

After that, we went into FAO Schwarz. I took W’s picture with the guard at the door, and we wandered around. W had wanted to get a teddy bear from this place, but we both decided that it was a bit too expensive. An 8 inch teddy bear was about $150. We wandered around the store and saw the Big piano, and W saw the ceramic area. This is actually pretty cool. They have a wall of unfinished ceramics, and you can purchase items, go into a room with tables and paints and decorate the item however you want. Then, they set them aside and run them through a kiln later, and you can come pick it up in a couple of weeks. They also shipped them, so that was what W decided she wanted to do for a souvenir for herself and her mother, since her mother’s birthday was coming up in a few weeks. She spent a couple of hours painting while I wandered around looking at Lionel Train sets and going outside to watch people and make phone calls catching up with family.

When W was finished, we walked across the street into Central Park. We went into the Zoo up to the part where you have to pay to get in. We wandered around the south end of Central Park for a while, but we were both getting pretty tired of walking. It was also getting close to the time where I had to get the car out of parking or I would be charged for another day. We exited the Park onto Central Park west, bought hot dogs from a street vendor, and then started walking back towards the hotel. The plan was to get a cab, but every one that I saw either had the off duty sign lit or someone in it already. We kept walking as I watched for an available cab, then I decided to look like a damn tourist and stick my arm out like I had seen in so many movies and even a couple of times in person while we were there. It worked, and we hopped in the cab and gave the destination. I was seated right behind the driver, looking at his license: Afif Jamal. The New York experience was now complete. We got to the hotel and gave the claim ticket for the car to the attendant. It arrived after about 20 minutes. I checked to make sure that our luggage had actually made it to the car, and got the GPS fired up. We drove in New York traffic again, the GPS leading us to the Lincoln Tunnel to get back to Jersey.

The Lincoln Tunnel was an experience in itself. The GPS told us to go one way, the signs saying “Lincoln Tunnel: Cars Only” told us to go another way, and the construction detour signs offered yet a third opinion. It only took one time going the wrong way to figure out where we really should go, but because of the construction and lane closures and the time of day, it took about an hour to actually get into the tunnel. We finally made it onto the freeway heading home. The drive home was pretty much uneventful, and once we got back to the house we both crashed into our beds immediately.

Next: Shenandoah National Park, Day 1.

August 21, 2009

Visits and Vacation Part 4

Filed under: personal — Tags: , , , — thetick @ 9:04 am

The alarm went off at five on Monday morning. I got up and showered, and got W up. She showered while I got the boys up as they had requested. The boys loaded up K’s car with their stuff, and I loaded me and W’s stuff into mine. We all headed to the convenience store to top off the gas tanks and get traveling snacks, and then we said our goodbyes. The boys headed west for home, and W and I headed northeast for New York City.

W had really wanted mini powdered sugar donuts to go with her coffee, but the convenience store only had some weird off brand. We stopped at another one a few miles down the road and were able to acquire Hostess powdered sugar donuts, the only acceptable brand, in my opinion. After that, we headed on down the road. W fell asleep about a half hour later, which wasn’t a problem since she really wouldn’t be missing much. After about two hours, I pulled into one of the combination rest stop and travel center places to use the bathroom. Twenty four ounce coffees will eventually catch up to you. We continued on the New Jersey Turnpike, making good time. I had purchased noon tickets for the Statue of Liberty ferry, and according to the GPS, we would arrive at about ten thirty. No problem, since they will generally let you on the next ferry, no matter what time your ticket says. As we exited the turnpike onto I-78, I was able to start pointing things out to W. The first thing visible was the Manhattan skyline, followed shortly after by glimpses of the Statue of Liberty.

The ship that takes you to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty has two departure points, one in New Jersey, and one in New York City. I prefer the one in Jersey, since it is easier to drive to from where I live, and seems to be a bit less crowded. I haven’t been to the New York side, but I have to assume that parking is cheaper, and more readily available. We found a spot, the ferry was a LOT more crowded this time compared to when I was there with K a few months earlier. We walked into the station, W taking pictures of the old train tracks there, and I walked up to the “will call” window and got our tickets. We walked out and got right on the boat, and only had to wait about ten minutes before it launched. I took W to the second deck, which was less crowded than the open air deck on top, and we found a spot on the railing where we could see the Manhattan skyline. I pointed out the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. As the ferry departed, I got her to look back at the station from the water side, which is pretty impressive.

The first stop is Ellis Island when taking the ferry from Liberty State Park in Jersey. We went in and started looking around. Again, the place was absolutely packed, easily ten times as many people as the last time I was there. Somehow, we managed to always be with the same two family groups at the exhibits. They were remarkably similar: A mother with three or four kids, each kid with a pair of headphones on attached to the rented “audio tour” devices you can rent. These damn kids were all over everything. They pressed every single button that played a description of what you were looking at, even though they had on the headsets playing the same damn thing. They always shoved their way to the front of the exhibit, going so far as to get between the exhibit and the camera we were pointing at it. The mothers spent all of their time loudly calling their kids names to make sure they didn’t lose one. The exhibits at Ellis Island are divided into small rooms, and you can either exit back into the main hallway or through a side door into the next room/exhibit. At every room, the mothers would stand right in the middle of the doorway and call for their kids to “come on!” Nobody got past these harridans. Lines formed, and the damn kids, once they heard the shouting mother over the headsets, shoved their way through the crowd to join the harridan before the whole group shoved their way to the front of the next exhibit. We finally got tired of this and moved to the opposite end of the building to get away from them.

After viewing some more exhibits, the powdered sugar donuts wore off and we wanted to sit for a bit. We went to the café and ordered some fish and chips which were surprisingly tasty for being National Park food. We sat outside and watched boats in the harbor and the pigeons that were looking at us like we owed them some snacks. After eating, we got back on the boat and headed to the Statue of Liberty. I got to use the new video feature of my iPhone 3Gs, making a video of the Statue as the ferry crossed in front of it. After getting off the ferry, I asked W whether she wanted to go inside the monument first, then walk around the outside, or the other way around. She opted to go inside, since it was fairly warm. We had to rent a locker for W’s purse and a few other things that we just didn’t want to carry around with us, and then we went through security. Security at the Statue of Liberty is more involved than at the airport. We had to take everything out of our pockets, remove belts, jewelry and shoes to go through the x-ray machine, even though we had already done that before we got on the ferry. Then we had to go through the “sniffer.” We had to stand in a little closet sized space and have jets of air puffed at us so the machine could look for explosives. The only part that made me nervous was that there were about four sniffers, but only one x-ray machine. That meant that I was standing in a line to get into the sniffer while all of my valuables were sitting unattended in a Rubbermaid container thirty feet away. We were both cleared as being non terrorists, and were able to reclaim our valuables and clothing, and we went into the Statue base / museum.

The Statue museum is pretty neat, a lot of details regarding the history, design, transport and construction of the statue. There are even displays where they have recreated portions of the Statue using the same methods originally used so you can get a close up view of parts of Lady Liberty to get a better idea of the scale of her. I remember the first time that I went; I was surprised that the Statue wasn’t bigger. For some reason, I had thought that she was just so monumentally huge, that the reality seemed small. For instance, I knew that the dark spaces in the crown are windows, and for some reason I had a picture of the inside of the head as being this huge room, with people crowding around the windows looking out. The reality is that the face is only about 10 or 12 feet tall, and the windows only about a foot.

I hadn’t been able to get tickets to go up into the crown; they were already sold out for the two months after we were going to visit when I bought the tickets almost two months prior. But we were able to climb up the inside to where the pedestal ends and the Statue begins. In other words, you can look up Lady Liberty’s robes. We climbed up the many steps, and then wandered around the outside of the upper pedestal looking out over the bay, then decided to leave when the same damn two family groups that were making a nuisance of themselves at Ellis Island showed up and started being annoying. I was very torn between being nervous every time one of the kids jumped up to peer over the railing and hoping he would fall. We went to the gift shop and got souvenirs, then got back in line to catch the ferry back to Liberty Park.

We got back to the car, fired it up and got the AC going. I hooked up the GPS and found the hotel, and we were on our way into Mid-Town Manhattan. I had been really nervous about driving in Manhattan, just as much as I was about walking around NYC. The only real frame of reference I had to go by was movies and TV shows, so as far as I knew, you couldn’t walk down the streets of NYC without getting your pockets picked, then mugged and beaten up because you didn’t have any money because of the previous pick pocket.  We got through the Holland Tunnel, and started taking pictures. As we got closer to Mid-Town, things started looking more and more New York-like. There were so many people! I swear I saw more people pass in the crosswalks in front of me than live in my home town. We drove past Madison Square Garden, the New York Times, and a block north of Times Square. There were so many lights and signs, so many people. I was grinning from ear to ear. I got cut off by a cabbie, I laughed and grinned. I cut off a cabbie, I laughed and grinned. I got honked at by a cabbie, I laughed and grinned. I saw a cabbie nose through a crosswalk, and saw an angry man throw his hands in the air in the “I’m walkin’ here!” gesture, and I laughed and grinned. We finally found the hotel, the Grand New York next to Grand Central Terminal. I had already found that parking was valet only, and there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to turn left to get in front of the hotel. We circled the block, and managed to get in front of the hotel. I told W to grab absolutely anything she might need, and we got out. My car was whisked away, and we went inside to check in. Checking in was easy, there was a computer terminal there, and I just had to swipe the card I made the reservation with. The kiosk printed my receipt and made two keycards, and we were on our way to the 27th floor to our room.

We took a bit of time checking the room out, and looking out the window, then taking pictures out the window, and then just taking a breather. Before too long, we decided that we were hungry and I used the reliable iPhone to see how far it was to an Italian restaurant that had been recommended to us. It was only a few blocks away, so we hoofed it down the street. We went in and were seated by what we think was the owner. It took a while, but we eventually selected our meals from the menu. The food was fantastic. While we ate, the owner dude would come and talk to us occasionally. He found out that we were just visiting, and spent about ten minutes trying to convince to move to New York. I was starting to wonder if he was going to offer us his spare bedroom. When we left, he shook both of our hands and asked us to please come visit again when we were in town.

We had a brief discussion on the street about what to do next, since it was getting close to eight o’clock, and decided that we were really tired and just wanted to go to bed and that we would do the sightseeing the next day. I kind of wish we had at least gone to Times Square at night, but we both crashed pretty hard once we got back to the hotel.

Next: The Walking Tour of (a bit of) New York City.

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