Airport shuttle every 30mins so I was there well in time. Security didn’t take very long thankfully so I had lots of time. Got a bottle of Blanton’s at the duty free, ate a mcdonald’s breakfast burrito and got a glass of wine at the bar next to the gate to kill time.
Flight was pretty full. A middle-aged couple sat next to me so I never had to get up for them.
Watched a couple of films. Hitman 47 and something else. Some Grand Designs too. Slept for a few hours on and off.
JC took the train down from Stamford and we met up at the iconic Katz’s deli in the lower east side. Easy crosstown bus ride for me and again, a first. I had the pastrami sandwich and JC had a reuben. Came with a big side plate of pickles. Very yummy. The pastrami was very delicious, no wonder it’s so famous. Expensive, but I’d come again.
I’d planned a walking tour of the lower east side, around 2 miles brought us back to my apartment. Plenty of breaks in between. First stop was what is now know as the Brown Building at NYU but was the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. A fire there in 1911 killed 146 workers aged 14-43 and led to legislation for better working conditions. JC told me about it, I would never have known.
A break at Washington Square park to people watch. A pianist played the piano in the middle of the park. A street performer getting ready by painting yellow paint all over himself. An artist drawing something on an easel. Such was weekend life in a NYC park.
A short walk from the park was Stonewall. I felt like it was a place I should visit. And now I have. I’ve seen people posting about visiting there and feeling part of history and moved to tears etc. I must admit I took a couple of pictures and that was it.
The real destination was the nearby branch of the big gay ice cream shop. I remember when they were a food truck, tweeting his location to his followers. Now it felt like a branch of haagen-dazs, not much character.
More walking brought us back to the west village. Rested at the apartment with aircon and water break. And during our rest period, we were interrupted by an unexpected visitor of a six-legged variety, argh!!! We got rid of it but I decided I wasn’t going to stay there anymore. JC, bless her heart, used some of her points to get me a room at the Hilton JFK tonight, phew.
There was still time, so we went to visit the High Line (braving a sudden summer storm) and then to the Spotted Pig for early dinner. We got there at around 5.30pm, left our names and decamped to a bar nearby. Around 30mins later they texted and we were seated shortly afterwards. I had roll mops (::homesick::) and one of the best restaurant fish dishes ever: a black bass with delicately cooked flesh and impossibly crispy skin.
Back to the apartment and I called a Uber to take JC to the train station and me to the JFK hotel. All was well, I was settled into a bug-free room and watching tv. Probably a blessing, so I didn’t have to worry about getting to the airport tomorrow.
Had time left on the Citibike so cycled to the Flatiron Building for pictures, then a few blocks to Union Square Market. So many things I wanted to buy but couldn’t. Bought one tomato (very expensive, USD2 for one tomato!) and two golden beetroots to take back for Mum to try. Yes, crazy. Got talking with the stallholder at Orange County Distillery who made his own bourbon and single malt. I liked both, but could only buy one. In the end, the novelty of a small batch American single malt whisky (he called it whiskey) won. USD50 for 375ml is expensive. Want to support him though.
Back to the apartment for more laundry and then a trip tip steak for lunch. Like the feather steak, quite tough and I should have cooked it more. Watched MKR on the mba and checked into my flight.
Met my cousin at the extremely busy corner at 34th and 7th at 4.30pm, rush hour. The train ride back to their house was 1.5hrs and I salute him for doing this every day. We had a nice dinner with his kids and my aunt at the Old Dock Inn. Food was okay, the view was fabulous. They drove me back into the city. It was lovely to see the family, and I need to make sure I see them more often.
Tired from all the walking, woke up at 10am. Took the subway to 86th, back to my old neighbourhood.
Brunch at Papaya King on 86th, same as always. Also found a wifi station on the street, so I had wifi for a bit.
Walked the 10 blocks up to 96th, to see the old building. The place I used to do my grocery shopping is still there. The library is nearby and provided aircon and wifi break.
Down museum mile past the Guggenheim and towards the Met. There was a guy outside the Met advertising free poetry and when I walked up he was feverishly typing on a typewriter writing a poem for a previous customer. When it was my turn he asked me what I wanted him to write about so I told him that I used to live in New York 15 years ago and this was a sort of nostalgic trip for me. Took him about 10mins to type out a poem for me. He would go into true creative mode, thinking and moving his hands about. I thought it was pretty cool, tipped him $5. Here’s what he wrote:
i began my quest
to climb towering
with each storied window
reflecting the impossible height i desired
along the concrete
where taxis and subways
ruled the city
defeated i would shrink to the size of pigeons
and every experience
between i gained
private wisdom only new yorkers could achieve
i begun to unfurl my wings
to this foreign city
(has it been that long)
i retrace my path
what the average studio rent is now
Onto Central Park. Amazingly, it was the first time I’d spent any significant amount of time there. Paid USD12 for a 24hr Citibike pass and cycled around the park. Well marked road, segregating cars, bikes and pedestrians. Only park vehicles allowed so very few cars. I realised just in time that each trip on a Citibike is 30mins, so hurried to return one bike before getting a second one. Didn’t do all of Central Park, but had a good time cycling.
Now at Upper West Side, really thirsty but went first to the Apple Store to use the wifi then to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get a dish drainer for home. Yes, crazy. Finally able to find drinks at a CVS, ahhhh. The plan was to slowly make my way back to the apartment, which meant progressively utilising the Citibike network, first down Columbus and some city streets, then along the Hudson River Park. It was a bit tense cycling in the streets especially the side streets where there were no designated bike lanes. I was careful and got off to walk when I felt unsafe.
There were no free docks at 20th and 16th. Ultimately returned the last bike to the dock at 14th street. Was headed towards Chelsea Market when a tremendous thunderstorm hit. Took almost 20mins, sheltering in a doorway. Then as suddenly as it arrived, it left and the sun came out again.
Dinner was feather steak bought at Chelsea Market. The sinew in the middle made it quite tough, and I should have cooked it more. Lots of flavour though.
Laundry in the morning. About 10mins’ walk towards 14th street ACE stop. Good to take a rest. Visited Myers of Keswick, which sold British goodies like Marmite, brown sauce and pork pies. But no Walkers. Everything three times the price of the UK.
Lunch at the Spotted Pig. There is no excuse for not going, since it’s 5 mins’ walk away. Beautiful building, all red bricks and plants everywhere.
I got there just before 12pm when it opened. No reservation so people were milling around. I asked for a bar seat and ordered the burger and their bitter. Their burger is supposed to be the best in town. USD25, not bad price either, for a Michelin-starred place. And it was a great burger: medium rare as I requested, the roquefort really added to the flavour and the shoestring fries had rosemary and garlic in it. I forgave them for not having mayonnaise.
Back to Broadway for Matilda. Saw it in London and wanted to see it again (um, not only because it’s a challenge item in 101.1001). I should have realised that matinée in July = 50 million kids. There were 3 queues to get into the theatre and they all went around the block. I waited near the entrance to allow everyone to get in first, since I knew I had an aisle seat. I was probably the last person in. Luckily the people next to me were fantastic, not part of a group. The group behind was loud and talked throughout the performance, teenagers who should know better. The group in front of me was younger and instead of talking, there was copious fidgeting and standing up. Still, it didn’t detract from the show. I had sort of forgotten the story, and now after a second viewing it’s much more memorable. Lovely songs and performances by all.
Walked a long, long way to 30th and 12th towards the entrance of the High Line. By the time I got there I was really tired, so I was glad that section had shade from nearby construction. The High Line is a park located on an abandoned elevated railway track and extends all the way to 13th Street. Mostly wildflowers, which added to the charm. Some sections of the track were still visible.
Left the High Line at Chelsea Market, wasn’t sure where to go for dinner. The seafood, wine and cheese shop made the decision for me: get food to cook myself. Made a nice 4 course dinner: topneck & littleneck clams; kale & spot prawns with kale; small cheeseboard; blackberry & sorbet. Opened the bottle of wine Carleen gave me.
Long day planned, including trying to see a musical if possible.
My friend Brayden gave me a couple of websites in addition to tkts, so I bought a wednesday matinée ticket for Matilda. Aside from completing one of the remaining 101.1001 items, I wanted to see it again, enjoyed it when I saw it in London in 2012.
Headed via subway to the tkts booth at south street seaport, apparently fewer people. Got there 25mins before they opened at 11am and there was already a fairly long line. Helpful staff members were there to answer questions. Looking at the list of available shows, my first choice was Fun Home. The couple in front of me was after Fun Home too. USD82 including fees for a ticket in row A, which probably meant first row.
Walked around South Street Seaport, where I used to visit a lot. The A&F was still in its location but there are many other changes. Construction too, blocking some of the view of the river.
Had lunch at Smorgasburg. Unlike the Prospect Park version, it was more like a food court with 6 stalls. Had the lobster roll again. I ordered without fries but they put it there anyway. When I pointed it out they said have it for free. Washed it down with a beer, much needed on a hot day.
By then it was lunch time and I’m glad I’m not in the industry anymore. Millions of people descended on the surrounding areas for lunch. Good thing was there seemed to be an explosion of food trucks. Found a little peace and quiet, and aircon break at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary near Battery Park. It is also the site of the shrine for Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. Walked on to Wall Street to see the charging bull (too many people, impossible to take a picture without people).
More walking brought me to Ground Zero. The first sight was the very tall and very impressive Freedom Tower. Quite awestruck. Where the towers were are now two reflection pools, with names of the victims carved into stone surrounding both pools. Time for reflection and a prayer to remember the victims. 69 people at CF, I still remember the remembrance book that was for some reason in my office. The mood of the visitors felt more like tourists taking selfies, although everyone was respectful, no loud kids running around.
I also made a point to visit the survivor tree. A volunteer told us the moving story. A callery pear tree was found in the rubble and someone noticed it still had a few leaves. They took it to a nursery in Brooklyn and nursed the tree back to health. When the memorial site was being built, they moved the tree back to the site where it stands between the two pools. Now it’s totally thriving and is a symbol of hope and survival.
Wanted to find 222 Broadway for a pic, walked the wrong way and endup in near City Hall, Brooklyn Bridge and uptown. Too hot and tired to backtrack. Took the subway back to the apartment for a rest. Had early dinner of steak and fennel, meaning I didn’t need to find food near Times Square, always a bonus.
Times Square was as loud and overwhelming, even more so, that I remembered. Millions of tourists and neon everywhere. It was good to absorb the atmosphere for a bit, then it got too much and I quickly headed to the theatre.
Yes, definitely first row at Fun Home. It was a circular stage so I was smack bang in front of it. If I stretched my feet out I was already touching the stage. The show was wonderful, the stage setting gave an additional intimacy, it was like we were actually in the antique family house, the funeral home (the “fun home” of the title), the dorm room. So close that I could reach out and touch the actors, and even saw the tape holding their mics behind their necks! I’m glad I caught this one before it closes in September.
I checked into my flight yesterday already but have almost half a day to kill. Saw Carleen off early in the morning as she started her drive home with another friend B. My new friend JC gave me a hotel breakfast voucher so I made plans to have breakfast with her. She was going to drive up to Ptown to spend a few days there before making her drive home to Texas. She suggested that she drove me to New York. Interesting idea. We enjoyed talking with each other, so it would be a nice roadtrip. I cancelled my check-in but wasn’t able to get a refund, ah well.
So that’s how I ended up driving north with JC. We made good time, taking it leisurely. Didn’t go into Manhattan, she was actually headed to Stamford for the night so I said just head there and I’ll take the train down. Like I used to. What nostalgia, seeing the UBS building for the first time since 2000. Stamford has grown, lots more offices there now. We had a late lunch at a middle-eastern place, a quick drink at the bar next door and I was on the train back to Grand Central with my ex- future-colleagues.
Took a cab to the airbnb place. West Village / Chelsea / Meatpacking district near 14th street. I was early, the host’s friend was still cleaning up. It’s a nice studio apartment, with a bed, sofa, lots of closet space. Proper kitchen and bathroom. A little grubby, especially the bathroom. No natural light in kitchen or bathroom. No windows in kitchen and bathroom. Definitely not hotel standard. It’s living like a local. Small, I doubt even bbmm will be comfortable there.
Walked to the supermarket two blocks down. On the shopping list was milk and drinks; came back with almost USD60 worth of groceries: fruit, veg, steak, milk, sorbet, water. Hahaha.
The main event in the morning was the keynote speech. To a packed house, Fay Jacobs again gave us a masterful lesson on her humourous observations.
Lunch was back to high standards with roast turkey and beef. Second helpings again.
The last session I attended this con was one where authors discussed books by other people that they wish they’d written. Came away with a nice list of books to add to the reading list.
And then the mayhem started. Rehearsal for awards presenters went very well, we’d sent out notes beforehand so the whole thing only took 20mins. The time after rehearsal and before we needed to start the ceremony was supposed to be hooking up the computers and doing sound check. Argh! Tech difficulties of all sorts. Finally we ended up having to use someone’s computer and I had to copy over the ppt and fonts and get to grips with someone else’s machine. Nice mbp, so it was okay.
There wasn’t time to shower, gobbled sandwiches and had to be back at the tech desk.
Fortunately the rest of the ceremony went fine. There were a couple of tech hiccups, which thankfully most people didn’t notice. Didn’t go near the dance floor, had a nice chat with friends and shared wine. Was there till they closed the room down at 1am.
Wasn’t planning on going to any of the morning sessions but since I was up, I went to one about making apps and games from books. So glad I did! StoryStylus allows users to create games that are either a representation of their book’s story, or use characters in a standalone game. The UI seems straightforward and they are keen to come into our community. This should be a session for next year, especially since the company is in Toronto.
More learning at a session about writing what we know, or how we should develop knowledge that our characters know. Then time for our special speaker. Rachel Spangler did a fantastic job in dove-tailing her own experience and that of the past 10-20 years’ history to make a call for action. Build a bigger table, she said. Increase exposure, increase tolerance, build our history. What a great speech.
Lunch was buffet again but less good than yesterday’s. Mostly pasta which I found heavy. No second helpings.
Skipped the afternoon sessions to go do laundry with JC. It was fantastic to spend time with her, she’s smart and thoughtful. I even got to try Mexican coke. Even though I missed the book club, it was time well spent.
I usually miss the author autograph session, spent the time chatting with another friend and sharing her huge bottle of Makers Mark. She asked a friend to buy what she thought was a regular bottle, but the one that showed up was supersized. So we will all try our best to make inroads.
Dinner with Carleen at Ruby Tuesday. I had the steak and lobster combo, with salad bar starter. Evening ended with karaoke.
First session of the day was already very interesting, worth waking up early for. Both Carleen and Brayden are seasoned communicators, and they shared insights on how to do author readings. Takeaways include: crossing out chunks of text that are less interesting when read out loud; memorising 70% of the reading; keeping a “readings only” book. And preparation, preparation, preparation.
Then it was a matter of hanging out with old and new friends. Lots of hugs.
The theme for this year’s conference is diversity and I went to a double session by again two seasoned communicators. The session did not feel long, there were discussions as well as guided lecturing by the leaders.
Lunch was buffet-style. Prior years were sandwiches that were not very value for money, which was why A and I did our own thing last year (yummy chicken salad). Hot food this year, and a huge difference. Braised chicken, pork loin, mash, veg, salad. So tasty I got a second helping. They even had grab-and-go sandwiches for those who didn’t sign up for the food option at reasonable prices, so the non-food option attendees can sit with everyone. One thing I missed out on last year was socialising at lunch, although we could have chosen to eat our salads at the main area rather than back in our room.
After lunch was the members’ meeting, where Mary formally took over from Liz as ED. Finance report was encouraging, the memories of being in the red is a distance, but not forgotten, memory. Went to the first half of the social media class and then it was our session on awards. Very fee attendees, but those who came had great questions. So great that we continued our discussion and I missed the next session.
Dinner with Carleen at the hotel restaurant. I had sea bass which was fabulous. I even recommended it to the new friends I made at last night’s dinner. Stuck around chatting with people at the bar, another regular event at the con.
Woke up early for 8am gathering at the hotel lobby. The destination was the Library of Congress, at an event hosted by the LC-Globe group. When they heard about us coming into town for the conference, they wanted to invite some of our authors for a reading. In addition, they offered us a tour of the LoC and I was one of the fortunate ones to have been able to secure a place on the tour.
The LoC is the American version of the British Library, housing a vast collection of books, papers, music, audio and all sorts of research material. Anything that is copyrighted has a copy at the LoC, and they do not limit by subject, format, or language.
We started at the lobby and the balcony, as the tour doesn’t go into the actual library itself. Really really impressive, opulent decoration. As our guide Nick said, the purpose was to
The view from the balcony into the library was enough to show how wonderful it is.
We were able to see Thomas Jefferson’s library, a collection of books contributed by Jefferson from his personal library. Over 6,000 books that the LoC paid US$24,000 for. What was interesting was that he classified his books under 3 main categories: memory, reason, and imagination. For instance, a history book would fall under memory and a science book under reason.
Some of the books were lost in a fire, but the LoC has been diligently replacing what they could from the library’s own archives or by purchasing elsewhere. Again, impressive.
There was also several exhibitions inside the LoC. The America Reads exhibition showed a selection favourite books chosen by the public. Lovingly preserved first editions of many popular classics. Another exhibition was of the personal papers and works of Jacob Riis. Then another one of maps. We also saw one of 3 copies of the Gutenburg Bible. All in all, lots to see.
We walked through one of the underground tunnels connecting the buildings to the reading. Felt like a member of the Secret Service. The author reading was attended by our group as well as LoC staff. Great authors reading their representative works. Afterwards when they had a signing session, I went over to the registration office and applied for a Library of Congress library card. They looked at my driver’s licence, took a picture and I had my own card in 5mins. Very cool!
Got back to the hotel with just enough time to get my registration badge before the conference started. After the introductions and acknowledgements, we went straight to sessions. I attended two vastly different sessions: one on how to overcome distractions when working from home and another one that touched on this year’s theme of diversity. I skipped the third session to get a breather and to explore the vendor room. I brought a few things for the silent auction so I took them down too.
The first evening is always the ice cream social. I’d only had some string cheese in the morning and a doughnut whilst at the LoC so I was hungry. The ice cream helped. Someone said there was beer tasting at the bar so a few of us went. The tasting was only a small sample of a locally brewed porter. It was nice, so we ordered a glass each.
Dinner was from a food truck that was organised specially for us this year. They were late, but didn’t matter. A bunch of us went outside to the car park. Today it was barbeque. I had the platter: chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork and chose 2 sides of mac’n’cheese and collard greens. Came with a cornbread. Went really well with the porter.
Went over to the lounge and was “kidnapped” to join a dinner group. I was still hungry but it was the opportunity of joining this group that was the incentive. Learned a lot just from a couple of hours in their illustrious presence.
The power adaptor on the mba stopped working, the cable had become frayed and broken. Whatever plans I had was postponed while I tried to find the nearest apple store. Luckily the mall nearby had one and there’s a hotel shuttle that goes there. Wow, over USD80. Sigh.
Got a metro card and took the metro down to the city. Walked to the White House, Washington Monument and part way to the Lincoln Memorial. Outside the White House all pedestrians and cars were stopped for a few minutes. It turned out there was a motorcade. Anyway it was very hot so I rested a bit in Smithsonian castle.
A few more stops from the Mall is Eastern Market. I thought it’d be bigger, it’s only one corridor of stalls selling meat, seafood, fruit and veg. There was a stall selling food and quite full of customers. I had the crabcake and fried shrimp combo, came with fries and coleslaw. Very nice, the crabcakes had lots of crabmeat and there were something like 10 shrimps. Very full.
More metro to King Stree in Alexandria. Hopped onto the free trolley to go to the waterfront. Nothing too much to see. There was supposed to be a hotel shuttle back, but I couldn’t find it. Went back to the airport (only 2 stops away) and caught the airport shuttle.
A lot of people coming in today for the con, lots of meeting and greeting. Dinner with a bunch of people at the hotel restaurant, I had flatiron steak and spinach. Ordered rare and it came medium rare, nothing new. Another glass of wine then back to the room.
Woke up at 6am, had not very good free hotel breakfast (soggy waffle, bagel that was impossible to slice open). Caught the 7.30am shuttle to the airport. Check-in was straightforward. For some reason I got TSA Pre-check on my boarding pass, so I was able to go through the priority security lane. No need to take off shoes or even take laptop out of the backpack.
Walked to all the shops inside the terminal. Was very tempted to have a glass of wine but it was too early. Sat at the chairs at the gate for more than an hour. The flight was on time and it took only about an hour.
Weather in NYC was sunny but overcast in DC. Spotted the Washington Monument from the air. The airplane was a teeny tiny one with about 60 passengers and it stopped at an outside gate. By the time the bus brought us back to the terminal the wait for luggage wasn’t very long at all. There was quite a long wait for the shuttle, so many others went past before the correct one arrived.
Arrived at the hotel before 1pm. Got my key and got settled into our suite. Very nice suite, comfortable sofa and even a whirlpool bath.
First order of business, went to the supermarket. Most of the rest of the day was spent catching up with friends. They booked a high level function room to watch the fireworks but the weather was too poor. It was good to socialise anyway.
The closest to Austin I have been was to Dallas/Fort Worth, and meeting my friend DS (who lives in the Austin area) at Waco–halfway between DFW and Austin. If I ever visit Austin, I’ll want to give counter 3.five.vii a try. Interesting concept: a 25-seat restaurant where diners sit at a counter whilst the chefs work in front of, and interact with them. The menu consists of three tasting menus of 3, 5 or 7 courses, with or without wine pairings. The eater video shows typical 5- and 7-course progressions. Extremely modern cooking–menu changes weekly, they grow their own microgreens, there are foraged ingredients.
More interesting concepts: there are no servers and no tipping. So the 5-course, at $80, is really $65 with a 20% tip. Very decent reviews and very much a special occasion restaurant.
May be it’s because of the beautiful weather, I’m liking how most of these turned out. I do see a difference between using the big camera vs the small camera. Not bad for an entry-level 10 year old DSLR. I’m not happy with the small camera; at the back of my mind I’m still missing my s90 and not liking the newer s110. I hardly used it on the trip.
May be also due to the good weather, minimum adjustments needed for the outdoor pics. Some cropping, some levels. There’s a speck of dust or a scratch inside one of the mirrors so a little cover up needed. The indoor pics, especially at the Sage Inn, had to be re-levelled, because the interior was so dark.
A friend at Ptown brought along her brand new, fabulous, envy-worthy lens. She kindly let me borrow it for a second and I quickly snapped this one of the whale-watching signboard from far away. Nice. Thanks, Dutch!
We were also talking a little about over-processing of pics. I see a lot of, especially landscape and nature photography, that are rich and complex but then I realise how much the pics have been processed and I’m less impressed. I admit, processing in Lightroom is also a skill, it just seems less photography than digital manipulation.
I can only applaud the decision. RAW images are flexible and can be processed much more than jpgs. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Seeing this comparison:
image from manners photo
who wouldn’t want to use RAW? The question then is, which is real and which is manufactured. I’m all for relatively small adjustments to exposure, level, colour—I do it all the time. But professionals who earn money taking action news photos as they happen should present the most realistic picture (pun not intended) of what is happening, hence Reuters’ emphasis on ethics.
Also fitting that in the middle of teasing me the other day, mm reminded me that I actually got paid for a photo I took when we visited whitstable. That one was literally a quick snap with none of the post-processing Lightroom stuff (well, cos I don’t shoot in RAW). Each to their own, I suppose.
Day of the flight. Car’s cousin Mike kindly took me to the airport and I was checked in and through security in no time. Bought a Balvenie triple cask 16 that we first tasted in Heathrow, then bought 4 pork buns at wow bao for lunch. Beer at the bar next to the gate was expensive, $11.
The flight was full, and I got upgraded to premium economy. Here’s the dilemma, which is the better seat: an aisle seat in economy or a middle seat in premium economy? I would have preferred an aisle seat but the lady sitting next to me was nice and slept most of the way. The additional seat width and leg room were good in helping to make 15hrs pass faster.
Disappointed that there wasn’t much to watch, no big action film, no Bake-off and too many old tv programs (Prime Suspect s1, Entourage s1, ugh). Watched Spy (funny, good) and The Hundred-Foot Journey, which was a real gem. An Indian family’s car broke down in the middle of the French countryside and they decided to settle down roots, opening a restaurant directly opposite a Michelin-star establishment. War ensued, but of course it was a happy ending in the end. Helen Mirren was brilliant in this predictable feel good movie, perfect for watching on the plane.
PE had better food. Filet steak and creamy shrimp on rice. I had half a glass of wine, but mainly stuck to coke zero and sparkling water.
Door to door was 20hrs, and I lost most of Wednesday. Got home around 9.30pm, showered and unpacked quickly.
My nano time is based in Chicago so when I woke up at 5am there was enough time to write and assign it to day 4. I wanted to get around 1000 words in, and am pleased that I got almost 2000.
It was only about 30-40mins’ drive to the town of State College, where Penn State University is located. By located I mean the entire town is the university. I’ve visited some very large campuses in the US, and this one is one of the largest. So very different from tiny King’s.
We were early so we ended up driving up and down the main street several times. Visited the big stadium and Centre Furnace Mansion where the university was founded.
There was even more time remaining, so we ended up at the Hyundai dealership to get an oil change. We’re efficient!
We met with our friend Mary for lunch. It was so wonderful to finally meet her in person—we’ve known each other online for 7-8 years. Great conversation, she is smart and wise and articulate and observant. It was a pity that we only had lunch hour. Hopefully we get to see her in person again.
We finished lunch around 2.30pm. We hit the highway around 3pm. It was 560 miles / 900km back to Chicago. We’d decided that we would head back instead of breaking the trip into 2 chunks. Better to arrive home late. Even with breaks, and a longer break for dinner at a service station (I had turkey avocado BLT and chicken arugula grain salad at Panera) we got back to the house at midnight. Total distance driven to Ptown and back, around 2800 miles / 4500km.
The destination today was Scranton PA and the purpose to visit several places that are relevant to my friend Carleen’s family history. The first destination was the Lackawanna Historical Society, located near the university. Unfortunately it was closed on a Monday, what a shame.
The second destination was the cathedral cemetery. The lady there couldn’t have been more helpful, she found old records dating back to the early 20th century and were able to locate several plots using a couple of truly old maps. One was so old that it was almost undecipherable and was laminated to preserve its condition.
The cemetery also had a section for the military. There was a plaque with a few verses of the poem Bivouac of the Dead and many, many US flags. Quite moving.
At St Joseph’s we visited the chapel. The building was originally an orphanage and is now a medical centre for the mentally disabled, women and families. I took a couple of pics of the chapel because I knew mm will like them.
We also drove around to two locations where the family lived. One of the houses is no longer there, that part of the street having been demolished to make way for the highway. The houses were quaint and for the most part well maintained. However if we weren’t there for a specific purpose, there wasn’t much that Scranton can offer.
Overnight at a Hampton Inn along the road, around 45mins to our destination tomorrow.
We had tickets for whale-watching, so we set off early in the morning to the pier to board the boat. A last look at the beautiful harbour on a very cold day, temperature in single digits. I wore my hoodie as well as my coat with lining, and when I was out of the sun, it was very cold.
The ride out to the whale grounds was horrid, absolutely horrid. So choppy it was like riding a rollercoaster. The crew said 5-6 feet waves and there were times when we were propelled out of our seats. They gave us travel sickness pills which barely did the job. When we reached the spot, the boat bobbed in the waves and it was very unsteady too. I headed outside immediately so I could get some fresh air. Wah, so cold, my hands were frozen as I couldn’t put them in my pocket—one to hold onto the rail and the other to hold the camera.
The naturist on the boat was wonderful, he gave us non-stop, relevant and educational commentary. We managed to find and track several whales and the pics turned out pretty well.
The trip back was a doddle, since we were going in the direction of travel. We were all very cold during the long walk from the boat back to the car. There were plans to get clam chowder to go, but we hopped into the car and decided to drive out straightaway.
From the cape, it was just a matter of finding the highway and going. I think the travel sickness pills cause drowsiness because I couldn’t keep my eyes open and slept for a while in the car. Overnight stay at Danbury, dinner at Denny’s.
Last full day in ptown. Started early with the annual wiffleball game—from what I can gather a casual game somewhat similar to baseball/softball. Afterwards we had breakfast at the post office restaurant—eggs benedict and bloody mary for me.
The purpose of the day was mainly to catch up with friends and hang out at the bookstore, on the street and squealing pig bar. I had lots of beer—3 in total. I’d also been eyeing the local oysters so I tried half a dozen. Very nice.
Back to our hotel for more relaxation and packing. We’re mostly done, loaded the car except for overnight bags.
The last day of our events, I stayed in one place for the readings and chats. Some were more interesting than others. It was thundery and rainy at the start so more motivation to stay put. After the last reading we broke down the room. Then off to find food. Ended up more than 40 miles away at Hyannis, at Olive Garden.
Visited some cemeteries on the way back. The most interesting one was Cove Burial Ground where several passengers from the Mayflower were buried, as well as their family members. It’s amazing to see gravestones of someone born in the 1500s and 1600s.
It was around sunset, our final stop was a lighthouse located next to a golf course. Very pretty, like many of the landmarks in the area.
There was time to do laundry and watch TAR. Again, really good to relax and wind down.
Attended several different events during the day at various locations: author readings, chats, meet’n’greet. The difference between ptown and the con is that I know only a small fraction of people attending, and I’m never sure walking down the street or even at events who the other participants are. There are a few familiar faces, and I gravitate towards them in a sea of strange faces.
In between events, I walked around town taking pictures. Walked up to the distinctive landmark of the pilgrim’s monument but didn’t want to pay $12 to climb up. Walked to the library, the beach and other places. It’s a quaint town, still with character despite the high number of tourists.
Spent a little walking on the beach. So peaceful, to watch and listen to the ocean.
After the morning event, we had lunch at the lobster pot. I had clam chowder and lobster bake—boiled lobster, corn, mussels. The lobster was really good, fresh and sweet. The corn was average. The mussels were gritty. Overall, a good meal.
There were other events in the afternoon. I also caught up with a few familiar faces at the pig. Walked back to the hotel, wanted to walk off the rich food and drink, plus it was a nice evening.
Leisurely morning, didn’t do much except read, play with the ipad and eat leftover pizza. We left at mid-morning to visit the nearby beaches. First to race point then to herring cove. They are pretty beaches and it was peaceful just to stand still on the beach and listen to the sounds of the waves. It was a nice morning, warm and not windy.
Back to ptown and parked in the all-day car park. Headed to the squealing pig in search of a drink and food. Found friends in addition to the drinks and food. I had a couple of their pumpkin beer and a lobster roll for lunch. Found even more friends, walked around the shops and had clam chowder at the lobster pot. I’d been looking forward to the seafood here and I’m not disappointed.
The event we went to was the gcls meet’n’greet at the sage inn. A good turnout, and lots of people I don’t know. I started by hiding behind the registration desk but eventually managed to meet a couple of new faces. A couple of friends bought me wine, I ended the evening with 3 glasses of cab and a beer.
After the meet’n’greet was a comedy show by one of our esteemed members, Fay. I saw the show at the con in NOLA, it was just as great second time around. Instead of doing standup jokes, Fay told funny anecdotes of her own life. And what a life. She was a master at comedy, didn’t need any props or gimmicks, just sitting on stage and telling us the stories. It was a masterclass of comedic writing and timing.
It was raining when we set off at around 8.30am, luckily within an hour or so it’d cleared up. The breakfast at the hotel was terrible so we stopped at a mcdonald’s, except that mcd wasn’t very good either. Ah well.
At mid-morning we reached Albany. The state capitol building looks impressive. It’s within a complex with different buildings housing different departments plus a conference centre called The Egg. For a weekday there wasn’t a lot of people around.
The reason for the stop was to visit the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Carleen’s great uncle’s name is on there. It’s a sad reminder of the bravery and sacrifice given by firefighters. The memorial wall has over 2,000 names and in front of it is a very lifelike sculpture of 2 firemen helping a colleague.
From Albany it was follow the highway to our destination. Driving through Massachusetts was pretty, the trees that lined the road have begun to change colours and there are splashes of red, orange and yellow amongst the green.
We reached Ptown at around 5pm. Our hotel is located about 1-2 miles from the town centre. It’s a nice hotel, our room is spacious with a small dressing area, fridge and microwave. Ran an errand into town centre but didn’t stay, even though we saw a few friends. Ordered pizza for dinner at our room, so we could rest, relax and have an early night. It will be a busy next few days so it’s a good opportunity to re-energise. Knee update: much better today, I was even able to jog around lightly at our stop in Albany. Mostly muscle soreness at this point.
The alarm was at 3.30am, our aim was to leave at 4.15am. By the time we checked everything and loaded the car, we were close—left at 4.30am. The start of our road trip, with final destination provincetown. The aim today was around halfway, to western new york.
Snacked on hard boiled eggs, leftover pizza and cheese in the car. I also managed to nap for about an hour or so.
Reached our friend R’s house in western new york state at 2pm. Great to see her and her son, I love their house—typical wooden cladding outside and even more beautiful wooden flooring inside. We also made time to visit the yoga studio of our friend L. More beautiful interiors, the studio is located in what looks like a warehouse and looked quite plain outside. Inside was pretty and peaceful, I can feel how great it would be to do yoga there.
Said goodbye to our friends and continued for about 3hrs. Overnight stop at Syracuse. Had a quick dinner (salmon and 2 sides for me) then spent the evening watching tv and relaxing. Nice to have time and room to veg out after a long day of travlling. I woke up with a swollen left knee and have been hobbling all day, I’m looking forward to putting my feet up—Carleen made me an icepack to ice the knee too.
I went to bed at 9pm last night, so no surprise that I woke up at around 5-6am. Had cereal bars and a nice cuppa. No particularly plans today, relaxed till almost lunchtime. Went to the laundrette then to the cinema.
I hadn’t been to the cinema for ages. Can’t even remember the last time, probably also at Crestwood. We saw Sicario. I’m so out of touch with what’s on that I haven’t heard of this film at all.
It was a very intense film. Set in the chaotic lawless world of Mexican drug gangs on both sides of the border with the US. Emily Blunt is the FBI agent who was volunteered into an interagency task force led by a dubious flipflop wearing Josh Brolin and a mysterious Benicio del Toro who was clearly involved but not from law enforcement. Blunt gave the audience their POV and we felt for her when she realised that things weren’t as black and white as she had previously believed. What the drug gangs were doing were certainly illegal, but what the taskforce was doing was too, so who was the bad guy?
The film was violent, very much so. But that’s realistic because we’ve all read about the mass killings and the missing schoolkids and the turf wars. It’s also realistic that conventional policing methods may not be effective against gangsters who were above the law or even controlling the police.
The performances were brilliant. Emily Blunt was a perfect blend of tough FBI cop and naïve citizen expecting law enforcement to follow the law. Josh Brolin, I didn’t recognise. He reminded me of surfer dude Jeff Bridges. The best performance IMHO was from del Toro, wonderful wonderful wonderful.
By the end, some of the problem had been solved but it was the tip of the iceberg. Other issues, especially Blunt’s character’s conscious, are unresolved at the end. That did not detract from the enjoyment of the film. It’s the sort of film that makes you think afterwards. As EW said in its review,
Sicario is a brilliant action thriller with the smarts of a message movie. And the message is this: Are we willing to bend the rules and sell our souls to fight a war that will probably never be won?
Dinner was homemade beef taco. Minced beef, taco seasoning, refried beans, shredded cheese. It was nice, and hit the spot.
Woke up at 6am. Showered, did quick laundry. Out the door at 7.30am. I thought I’d beat the rush hour madness but every taxi that went past was either occupied or on call. It was raining very heavily (10cm this morning already) so chances of grabbing one off the street was zero. Had to call one at the end.
Already checked in so dropping my suitcases took less than 5mins. Two suitcases total less than 20kg, hahaha. I was meeting mm at the check-in counter, she was early and was already there. We had a nice breakfast, had time left so I treated her to starbucks.
Security and immigration took another 5mins. Wandered around the duty free, but I know I can’t buy anything. There was Yamazaki NAS and Hakusu NAS, but nothing else. Texted mm and we decided that it’s not worth getting, since it’s NAS and not Nikka. Then again, to complete our collection I may, if I remember, get it on the way back.
Flight was around 80% full. If I’d just picked the row in front or behind I’d have a free middle seat. Unfortunately I was sat next to a young couple. And probably the only mainland people in the whole cabin. Ugh. Why do I have to be near those effing people. Ugh.
Food on the flight was forgettable. Beef with mash and beans plus ice cream for lunch. Chicken with more mash and beans and creme caramel for dinner. Had instant noodles in the middle. Watched Pitch Perfect 2, Entourage, Ant-man and 10 episodes of Veep. No bake-off this trip.
The flight was early. Landed at 1.30pm. Immigration was fast, now that I have a new passport I can use the machines. Luggage came out fast too. Carleen picked me up at the car park and we were heading back quickly.
Had food at our favourite steakhouse, then went to the supermarket. Lots of pumpkins out in the front, aha, it’s Halloween coming. Bought some stuff to take back, aiming at not too many purchases this trip. Unpacked, showered and relaxed. Lasted till just before 9pm, my eyes can’t close anymore. Time for bed.
A few of my favourite NOLA pics are of the distinctive houses. Balconies, wrought iron decorations and, in general, very big. When we walked around the garden district, we looked at estate agent windows and these houses are expensive for the US market. The majority are well kept.
Talking about the garden district, we paid a short visit to a small bookshop there. They have one shelf of books about NOLA, nice.
We also came across an old bookshop in the French quarter.
I posted a bunch of conference pics on fb already, I guess I should let people know I have more pics on flickr. I brought the big camera with me most days, and it seemed to do a better job than the little camera. I didn’t take many pics of panels and discussions, only ones I thought were interesting. Took quite a few during karaoke with people in masks. I was too busy during the awards to take many pics with others.
One of the pics I thought turned out very well was the one of Dorothy Allison during her keynote. I was sitting almost immediately in front of the podium and took this before moving to the back of the room to get shots of the audience.
Flying west means losing the better part of the day. I boarded in the afternoon of Thursday and arrived on Friday night for a 15hr flight. On the way in, the route was along Japan then across first Canada then the mid-weat. The return flight took us almost over the north pole, at halfway point we were somewhere in the arctic circle.
Even thought the flight left an hour late, the pilots caught us up and we were only 5mins behind scheduled arrival time. Luggage was very slow coming out, people were standing around most belts and nothing was coming out; there were constant announcements of luggage delay, guess there was a general problem. It’s not really acceptable, waiting 30mins for luggage.
The great thing was, mm came to pick me up in ryan. We took a slightly longer route home, we were chatting and I was not in thinking mode to help navigate. Still probably faster than me taking the train then a taxi. Plus it was great to see mm. Easy unpacking, since one suitcase was almost all mum’s stuff. Showered then straight to bed.
Left the house at 12.30pm and was at ORD punctually at 1.30pm. No problems dropping off my luggage, the nice counter person put priority tags on my 2 suitcases even though strictly speaking I’m no longer at a high enough level. There was a huge long queue for TSA passport check, although the queue for security wasn’t bad. I had my normal backpack stuff plus the large, heavy, breakable award in a tote bag. TSA wanted to check my award, and the agent even said to me as she was getting her swab ready, “is it an award?” Some of our winners had been stopped last year so I wasn’t surprised. Not much of a delay, so I wasn’t bothered.
I looked at the whisky selection at the duty free—not much interest, may be balvenie 16 at $101 or laphroaig 10. Didn’t want to take more stuff on the plane. The flight had a 1hr delay because of late arrival from the incoming flight. I sat at the bar with a view to the gate and had an IPA from a local brewery. Debated on whether to order food, I was a little hungry but didn’t feel like any of the heavy burgers or sandwiches. Decided on a spicy tuna roll which was quite okay, if expensive for the portion.
Flight was uneventful. I had an aisle seat and sat next to two elderly Australian ladies. They weren’t familiar with the flight etiquette of closing the window blind so I had to ask them to, because the sun was reflecting off the wing straight into my eyes. The attendant for our section had the funny name of Sonic and he seemed quite inexperienced, if very polite and hard-working. Watched Insurgent, Kingsmen and the Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’m glad I watched the entire Bake-off season on the way in, it disappeared off the menu this month. Didn’t sleep a whole lot.
My last full day in Chicago. Woke up at 11am. The biggest plan for the day was to do laundry, because I didn’t have a clean shirt or clean socks for the flight. So after we played online, we went off to the neighbourhood laundry. It’s always difficult on a long trip, bring enough clothes and they fill up the suitcase; bring only enough for a week or so and I’m always obsessing about laundry.
Did a couple of errands at walgreens and best buy then we ordered chinese food. It was around 3pm so we were hungry. Never order chinese food when you’re hungry. We ordered enough for 6 people, although it was strategic: leftovers keep for a few days. Rest of the day was spent repacking and reading. I have enjoyed this holiday, but it’s time to go home.
Another no hurry day, I opened my eyes and it was almost 9am. We got underway quickly, at around 9.30am. Filled up the car, got some drinks and headed off. In no time at all we were back in IL and signs for chicago started appearing. Went for a short drive-by of southern illinois university at carbondale, where Carleen earned one of her many degrees. It’s a huge campus, so large that it’s like a town that needs its own map. Pretty buildings too. So different compared with King’s.
Uneventful drive. I had a small headache and fell asleep with the movement of the car. Ran into a small thunderstorm which was actually good because it got cooler for a while. Got back to Carleen’s house before 6pm.
Checked into my flight as soon as I got back and had wifi. Dinner was frozen custard, I had one with mint and melted chocolate. I think next time I’ll just have a plain one with raspberries and strawberries. Again a quiet night, catching up on sorting pics, posting and reading the dozens and dozens of notifications I had on fb. I had a post thanking the Director’s for the award and I got over 60 “likes” which is a record for me.
There was no big hurry to leave, so I had a leisurely breakfast of croissant and tea in the lounge. I’d packed last night so I was all ready. We left around 11.30am to drive back to Chicago, with much less luggage than the way in. Had lunch at Cracker Barrel (trout, broccoli, beans, okra for me). Not a lot of traffic or construction so the going was smooth.
Stopped overnight at Sikeston, having driven around 540 miles over around 8hrs. The nice desk person at the Best Western recommended a local pizza place so we got a sausage & mushroom pizza plus cheesy bread. The cheesy bread was really good; the pizza was okay. Read a bit then went to bed. Nice to be on the way with no slides to work on, no flat tires, no bad weather.
The last day of the conference, sad sad sad. I managed to say hi to a few more people before the closing remarks by our ED. Brunch followed, and more socialising. Saying goodbye is the hardest part, especially since we only get to see each other once a year and some friends may not be attending the next conference. Our group managed to plan pranks for one of us with a giant bag of mints and come up with panel ideas at the same time. I also talked to one of the winners R about LL, and she says she will motivate me into finishing it.
Finally we had to leave the room so the staff can clear up. Helped break down one of the vendor tables—lots of physical labour putting books into boxes. Went to the foodcourt for lunch (shared a 25-piece chicken finger bucket and got a hurricane daiquiri with tequila shot). After getting our sustenance, we convened at armchairs in the hotel lobby for a game of trivial pursuit. We only played two games, but we looked up towards the end of the second game and it was almost 7pm. Great game; I’m usually not too bad at trivial pursuit, but the US-centric decks we were playing were less familiar to me. I had great teammates though, I was blown away by their general knowledge. The most fun part was watching my teammates and the other team confer and discuss possible answers. The final result: 1 game each.
Dinner was at the hotel restaurant. A few of us shared a dozen chargrilled oysters—the garlic butter was yummy. I had lobster with spinach risotto—the lobster was fresh and I added some of the garlic butter for additional flavour.
We planned to play another game after dinner. Ended up chatting and sharing stories into the wee hours.
I was looking forward to the conference with a mixture of dread and anticipation. I managed to go to most of the sessions I wanted, skipped a few because of award stuff and because I just wanted a little time at the gym. I don’t know why, but I get more sociable during the conference. This was the biggest conference so far, at 350 attendees. This meant I wasn’t able to meet as many new friends, spending most of my social time greeting old friends. Need to do correct that in future conferences.
Next year’s conference is at Washington DC and the following year in Chicago. I plan on going to both, but it had crossed my mind that I should go every other year because it’s expensive in terms of both time and money. What I spend coming to the con can be reallocated to another trip with mm. Then again, the conference experience is so unique that it’ll be a hard decision to make.
tl;dr: long day, great awards night, I got a huge surprise
Too tired to go to the first session, and we had to convene to work through the presentation deck. We finished in time to go to the keynote speech by Dorothy Allison. I’d never heard of her before, although I understand she is a pioneer and very famous for both her body of work and her activism. Her speech was…there are no words to describe. Stunning, personal, mesmerising are the few that I can come up with. I started at the front then moved to the back to get pictures of the audience. At the end of her speech there was a tremendous standing ovation and I got regular pics and took a panorama of the room with the iphone too.
After lunch was a roundtable on reviewing. There were some very good discussions from the panelists and the audience. Not everybody agreed on every point, but that’s because we are not robots. The discussion was civil and passionate as it’s a topic we are all invested in. Interesting question, if there is absolute no redeeming qualities in a book whatsoever should the reviewer post a review? One camp says yes, to prevent other people from wasting their money; another camp says if there is nothing good to say, don’t say it.
We had awards run-through with the presenters at 3pm so we went over to the ballroom early to check it out. To our horror the hotel staff had only just begun to put out tables and equipment. They worked quickly and efficiently though, moved the tech table to where we wanted and worked out details of stage placement. Very professional. Carleen did a good job with the run-through, explaining the proceedings and expectations succinctly. Unlike last year we had more than 1hr to get ready. I’d grabbed spare lunch bags for dinner so I was prepared. A got me a diet coke too, so thoughtful. Had a sandwich, took a shower and went downstairs to set up. A bit of miscommunication with people coming in and out of the ballroom before official doors open was sorted quickly and we were ready to start the awards ceremony at 7pm.
The MCs this year were two of our own members and they planned funny sketches involving lost & found, tweets and cocktails in between announcement of winners in each category. We had planned theme songs for each category as well as each winner. As I ran the slides, Carleen ran the soundtrack. Everything ran smoothly.
The only part of the deck I didn’t have was the Director’s Award. This is the only non-writing award and is given to a volunteer for their contribution. When it was the category’s turn to be announced, I switched the main screen over to Carleen’s laptop and waited. It was nice to have a rest from tense pushing of the down arrow all night. Ha! Little did I know, I would have no rest, they gave the award to: me. My first thought was, what are you guys doing? Why me? What am I supposed to do now? Everybody had turned around and was cheering and clapping and standing up, Carleen had to tell them to sit back down to run the rest of the slides. I was still in shock and she had to tell me to go up to the stage to get the award. Easier said than done, it was like an obstacle course trying to negotiate tables. Apparently I said something like thank you to the board and told people to volunteer. Can’t remember. The only thing on my mind was to run back to the table to set up the slides for the next category, which was on my mba.
Deep breath. I’m incredibly honoured that the Directors think I deserve the award. I do a lot of running around during conferences—I take pictures, help move stuff, do the posters and this is my second year responsible for the award slides. But so do a lot of people. The entire organisation is staffed by volunteers and there are many others to put in as much, or even more than me. A big thank you to the Directors. Oh, the Exec Director gave me a bottle of Highland Park Dark Origins—if I had to buy a whisky right now, it’d be what I buy, perfect (okay, she actually asked me, under the guise of needing whisky adviceaas a gift for someone).
After my award, I had to focus again to get back to the tech table. The final awards are the big ones—two popular choice awards, one for cover design and one for a book. The Lee Lynch Classic award was presented by Lee herself to Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Rita Mae was there in person to accept it. Karin Kallmaker did the presentation for Trailblazer award to Joan Nestle which was accepted by Dorothy Allison.
Last year after the awards I packed up, stayed for a few minutes when the dance began then went back up to the room. This year I still packed up, but was too excited to go to bed so I stayed to chat with a bunch of people. There was copious consumption of wine, and someone bought me a Jameson 12. We closed out the dance floor, with the amazing Lee Lynch taking my hands and us doing a jaunty bouncy number together—can’t call it dancing, it was more like skipping.
Actually set the alarm to go to a 8.30am session, about the changing landscape of the industry, with so many authors taking the self-published route. The panelists are both traditional and self-published, a couple of them having published both ways. The pros for self-publication are control and money as they get a higher percentage; the cons are time-consuming and it’s not always more lucrative—without the machinery of a traditional publishing house, sales tend to drop off after a couple of months unless the author embarks on intensive marketing. Interesting. I had plans to go to the next session but spent it doing some work and chatting with a couple of friends.
The mid-morning session was on the judging process. Not as well attended as hoped, since we were up against a bigwig reading. Still, it’s the first time readers, authors and publishers were given an insight into the book judging process, and kudos for transparency. Lots of good questions from the audience too.
Immediately afterwards was the author auction, which took a different format this year. Much more low key, much more mature. An author may participate in either the silent or live part, and during the live auction there was no need to come up to the stage and be treated like a product on sale.
Ali Vali was the special speaker was after lunch. She is one of the membership and she talked about her own writing process. She was funny and her speech had no dull moments. It’s wonderful to hear all these experience and amazing authors speak with authority and yet so much humbleness.
There were a couple more sessions and the author autograph. I skipped them in favour of going to the gym, although I only managed 5k on the treadmill. A and I went for an early dinner at Drago’s, the hotel restaurant. After hearing stories about the “sexy” alligator nuggets we shared one as a starter. Tasted like somewhere in-between tough chicken breast and a dense white fish. I had crocodile before and didn’t like it, alligator was better. For mains I had the oyster and shrimp platter, since I had wanted to try the one at Mother’s yesterday. Nice food, but expensive, $50 each including a beer for me. I think I’ve had enough fried food on this trip for the rest of the year.
Team meeting was followed by a great stand-up show by Fay Jacobs (she was actually sitting on a stool but whatever) which recounted anecdotes throughout her life culminating in her and her wife’s involvement in the fight for marriage equality in their home state of Delaware. I was quite tired and embarrassed to report that I nodded off in the middle of the show, it’s no reflection on the quality of the show. I was determined to stay till the end.
Traditionally Friday night is karaoke night. Not as many attendees as usual, some regulars were missing. Most of the singers had great voices or sang with enthusiasm. We had the “I Feel Pretty” tribute to our friend Pam—the DJ didn’t have the music so we all got the lyrics on our phones and sang without music. I had been waiting for this one, I left immediately afterwards.
At breakfast we ran into a newbie conference attendee and we had a great chat. She is an experienced reader, runs a reading group, is well travelled and knowledgable about many things. Hopefully will be able to participate more in the organisation. I think I made a new friend.
The first panel I went to was about how to do research when writing about a foreign country and times. The panelists were divided into the method writing camp, who insisted that the only way is to visit the countries involved; and the practical camp, who said that it’s not always possible because of distance, cost and sometimes danger. One writer writes about an invented country, so the method method doesn’t work. I had things to do so didn’t stay for the entire panel.
The next session was an extremely fun one, where well-known authors told a story and we had to vote on whether they were telling the truth or not. We learned that KK may or may not have 19 pairs of shoes; Rach may or may not have sat on the lap of another panelist; KG may or may not have been married to a man; LL may or may not have taken acid and MKM may or may not have ridden on a Harley with a motorcycle gang. This session should be repeated every year.
After lunch I went to a masterclass about the history of our books from the 1920s until now. Great class, delivered professionally and, even though it was in lecture format and a subject I’m neither familiar nor usually interested in, not boring at all. I felt woefully inadequate as I had only read one of the books on the list, and everyone in the class was waxing lyrical about this or that classic that spoke to them.
Next panel was about research. Well moderated and less contentious than the morning’s session about foreign countries. Agreed with the authors that evernote and scrivener is great, as is mindmapping. It’s important to have a balance between information dump and not enough information. It’s also more respectful to the readers to state correct facts, even if they are uncomfortable; than to make mistakes in books.
The membership meeting was next. Opening remarks by the Director was followed by financial reports and updates on awards and the new website. I also received a volunteer award and my 5-year pin. Yay.
Since I had a meeting, A and I went quickly over to mother’s for dinner. Real southern food in a no-frills setting. We lined up against a counter, gave our order and found seats. The wait staff took our receipt and brought our food. I had baked black ham, the glazed outer crust which is normally the bit that gets the marinade. Very nice. Served with a choice of 3 sides, I had turnip greens, green beans & tomato and red beans & rice. It’s never going to win any prize for presentation but it’s honest, simple food. The fried shrimp and oysters and seafood looked good. I hope I have another chance to try before I leave.
The conference started in the morning with volunteers gathering to help with stuffing the swag bag, setting up tables, organising the silent auction. The venue in the hotel is based on a courtyard concept, with rooms radiating from the central courtyard. Of course it became the focal point and meeting place. There were hugs galore as we see friends and meet new friends.
I brought a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel for the silent auction. I found out that because it’s 500ml it’s not considered a regulation size for import into the US, which means it’s not available in the US. I also put some in a hip flask and told people to come find me for samples. The usual suspects came up to me, as well as a couple of new friends. I think at the end of the day the auction has reached $55.
The conference proper started after lunch (we had chicken salad we made from stuff we bought at the supermarket) when the director made a welcome speech. The first session after that was a readers trivia session. I wasn’t planning in staying, but I ended up staying the whole session. I even won a book! (real physical book, which now I need to figure out how to take home, it’s one on my list to buy.)
Went running at the gym while the con virgin meeting was going on, took a quick shower and was back for the ice cream social. More hugging friends and meeting new friends.
Dinner was at M’s house, she invited a bunch of people to her place for bbq. We had cocktail, very juicy pork, dirty rice, boiled peanuts, bread pudding. She showed me how to make a mojito and let me make a couple. There were a lot of people, and I was getting a bit angsty because of the crowd. Took a taxi back with a few others just in time to catch JD in concert. Good attendence and she was absolutely fantastic. A long, event-filled day. Exhausting but fun.
Moved hotels today, around 5-10mins walk from the Doubletree to the Hilton. Room wasn’t ready so left our stuff with our friends J&H, chatted a bit then went to lunch with them plus 2 other friends M&M. M is local so she took us to crabby jacks, a fried food casual hut dining place. A and I shared a shrimp & oyster po’ boy with fries. Even regular was a large portion. Basically fried food stuffed in a roll. Tasted very good, the seafood was fresh and the sandwich overstuffed. Freshly brewed iced tea too, the kind where the tea is still hot and melts the ice cubes. We were 6 people in the car, which was very cramped. I ended up in the boot (it’s an SUV so wasn’t like transporting a body.)
By the time we got back to the hotel we were able to check in. Not the room A picked, but still on a high floor with a partial river view. We quickly unpacked and walked to the supermarket. Longer walk than expected, probbaly 20mins one way. Bought salad, hummous, roast chicken and soft drinks. Got caught in the heavy shower too so got soaked for the second time in as many days.
Rushed back to the hotel to change shirts then downstairs to meet with others who volunteered to help shift stuff. M (who took us to crabby jack’s) is the local liaison so a lot of boxes were shipped to her house. Took 4 cars and 9 volunteers to bring them all back to the hotel.
Dinner with Car and another friend L at the brewpub next to the hotel. I had a maibock and, since I’m all burgered and steaked out, a bourbon glazed salmon with kale quinoa pomegranate salad and grilled asparagus. Very nice, the vegetables especially. After dinner we had some official stuff to do, actually a lot; I didn’t get back to my room till 12.30am. Long day. Even longer tomorrow when the conference starts.
Started out early, after breakfast of bagels at the hotel café. Took the streetcar to French Market, it was quite early, around 9.30am but the heat was already stifling and I was dripping. The market wasn’t very interesting, mostly stalls selling t-shirts, beads, masks and souvenirs. The Ursuline convent nearby wasn’t opened yet, so I had to be satisfied with taking pictures through the gate.
A short walk took us to Jackson Square with the grand St Louis Cathedral holding court at one end. The inside was beautiful too, although we only spent a few minutes there. If mm were here, she would have wanted to stay for the mass at noon.
The famous Café du Monde was full of people, the queue weaved all the way around the front and side of the building. We decided against joining the queue. Walked a little bit along the riverfront and took pictures of the paddleboat Natchez, a tourist attraction. Most things in New Orleans seem to be tourist attractions.
It was around 11am and we were hot, sweaty and tired. Went inside Jax Brewery mall for a soft drink and to sit for a bit in air-conditioning. The brewery mall was uninspiring, consisting of galleries, tacky shops selling souvenirs and a foot reflexology place.
Onwards to Royal and Bourbon Streets in the French Quarter. This is probably the most famous area in New Orleans. The architecture is amazing, houses with iron balconies and french windows. Interesting shops on Royal Street. Bourbon Street was kinda dingy and boring, the bars were either not open, in the process of opening or taking deliveries. The street looked like a seedy back alley taking deliveries with the number of lorries there. Perhaps we were there too early in the day.
Lunch was at ruby slipper café where we had eggs cochon—braised pork debris on buttermilk biscuit with poached egg topping. Very big portion, quite salty but still tasty. When we came out of the café it started to drizzle, then rain, then pour. We didn’t have umbrellas and the streets offered very little shelter so we decided to bite the bullet and run back to the hotel. Needless to say we were like drowned chicken when we returned to our room.
Took a rest, changed clothes and packed up the dirty clothes for our afternoon outing first to the garden district then to do laundry. Normally we would have taken the St Charles streetcar, but it wasn’t working due to construction. The replacement bus travelled the same route, but was less charming. It was also very crowded. We got off at the garden district and headed towards Lafayette cemetery. It’s a small cemetery, and I had read in guidebooks to be careful when visiting cemeteries in case of muggers. Luckily there were other tourists there so we felt safe. New Orleans cemeteries are unusual in that burials are above ground so instead of headstones, there are crypts. The ones at the Lafayette cemetery were old, but some were still in use. We saw several crypts where family members who died from the 1800s to 2014 rested together.
The houses in the garden district were definitely luxurious. Some were large plantation style houses with wraparound balconies. What I liked were on some houses, there were fans even on the balcony. Saw at an estate agent’s window that houses were in the US$1m region, which is expensive for the US, but not compared with London or Tokyo or HK. The same price as a tiny one bedroom flat gets a 4, 5 or even 6-bedroom house here.
Next destination was on another bus, to a bar called Igor’s buddha belly bar. It’s a neighbourhood dive bar that I wouldn’t want to visit too late at night. At 4pm-ish there were 2-3 other people there. The main purpose wasn’t to visit the bar, or to play pool at the tables, it was to do laundry. Yes, there were laundry facilities at the bar: 4 washing machines, 4 dryers, albeit having seen better days. Did the work though, so we were happy.
Dinner was at the food court next to the hotel. I opted for beignets, since we skipped café du monde earlier. I also got one of those big gulps of daiquiris: a flavour with mardi gras in the name and bourbon as one of the ingredients. The beignets were better than expected. I thought they’d be full of grease, but they had a nice savoury taste, once I shook all the icing sugar off. It’s actually a lot like 牛脷酥 which is served with congee. The daiquiri I can take it or leave it.
All in all, an interesting day. Very hot and very humid. Then rained heavily. Not ideal weather for walking, but that was what we did. A’s stepcounter app claimed 10km but we think it’s closer to 5-6km. We also bought a day pass for $3 which we fully utilised, between taking the streetcar and buses. I didn’t make it back to Bourbon Street at night to experience the atmosphere, hopefully I get the chance another night this week.
Woke up at 9.25am after sleeping through the night, so we were quite refreshed. Hot and humid start to the day. Lunch was quick, drive-thru mcdonalds. The scenery and greenery changed as we went into Louisiana; the closer we got to the coast the lusher the vegetation and we drove along rivers and lakes for the last part of the drive. Very different and stunning scenery. The route was clear all the way to New Orleans and we made it to the Hilton Riverside at around 3.30pm.
The front of the hotel was busy with people loading and unloading. The hotel wanted to charge us per box to bring up to the room, it’s ridiculous. By the time we got everything up to one room we were tired, cranky and hot.
Early dinner at the buffet at the casino opposite the hotel. Salad, oysters, prawns, roast beef, fried chicken, lots of asparagus and local specialities like crawfish étouffée and cajun shrimps. Dessert was disappointing. Lots of cake, almost all of them dry; cheesecake that we mistook for pannacotta; bread pudding that was okay if a bit stodgy.
Back to hotel, I did a little running in the fitness centre. Showered, caught up with my friend A and posts for the past few days.
The plan was simple: start at 8am, have breakfast around 9-10am, drive around 8hrs to somewhere around Memphis, stop at dinnertime to find a hotel and have an early night.
We did get on the road at 8am, 7.50am in fact. Stopped at a Denny’s at around 9.30am for breakfast. So far so good. The only problem was that cousin K’s car’s a/c broke down so she had to buy a fan. Then in the afternoon she suffered a flat tire and other issues with her brand new car.
Long story short, we spent the next few hours either waiting or frustrated or both. Eventually we had to leave her car at the dealer’s in Missouri, transfer her stuff over to our car, then all of us squeeze in for the rest of the journey. We were about 4-5hrs behind schedule.
When it came time to look for a hotel, we ran into fully booked issues too. After asking at 6-7 places, we finally found room at a Ramada Inn at Batesville south of Memphis. A long day, I was tired even though most of what I did was sit in a car. We did cross the Mississippi at Missouri and drove alongside it for a while. Hopefully a good night’s sleep and we will catch up tomorrow.
We went to visit Car’s friend Tom at his place of work. Very interesting, it’s a costume shop at a college where he teaches. There are lots of costumes, dummies, hats, props and several sewing machines there. Haven’t seen a working sewing machine for a while—the one at the retreat house in Florence probably was working too, but we weren’t sure.
It’s always fascinating to visit other people’s place of work, especially if they don’t work at a boring cubicle in an office. Tom showed us boxes upon boxes of different hats and we were having fun trying them on.
Rest of the day was baking some lovely poundcakes. When it wasn’t so hot I went out for a 5k around the field. Feeling a bit better as the wind and cooler weather meant I wasn’t as sluggish. I also think it’s a mental thing, if I know it’s only 5 or 6k I can run faster vs if I know it’s a long run day I subconsciously try to conserve energy.
I should go do something, or rent a car and drive to the bourbon trail, or something, but I don’t feel like it. Stayed in almost all day, reading and doing stuff on the mba. We did go out for a late lunch / early dinner at lone star steakhouse. Shared a fried pickles starter, which I’ve had before and liked. Very greasy and deep fried of course, so good. The crunchiness and the tartness of the pickles complement each other. For mains I had a combo of bacon-wrapped sirloin and grilled shrimps. The sirloin was tender, although I didn’t like the bacon wrapping (to keep it moist?). The shrimps were a little salty. Took away dessert of apple pie and cheesecake to have later.
I scheduled a meeting with my FA to go though finances and stuff. I was early so I detoured to millennium park on my way up there from the station. Of course I’ve taken many, many pictures of the park, the art institute and the bean over the years, but a couple more can’t hurt.
After the meeting I stopped off at naansense for a snack. It’s a great street food idea—naan, roti or salad with various fillings like chicken, lamb, vegetables, paneer. I had the lamb korma naan.
I missed the train, and the next one was in one hour. I ended up at the Wells branch of billy goat tavern because it was opposite the station and it’s a Chicago classic I hadn’t visited before. Had a cheeseburger (“cheezborger” in their lingo) and their house dark. No chips, the burger was big enough. I liked that the condiments were on a table so we could serve ourselves. I couldn’t finish the burger, but I did finish the beer.
It was nice to walk around the streets where I used to hang out. I’d forgotten the geography, having to look up addresses. Once I got there, I sort of know the direction and the way. I didn’t have enough time to walk all the way to Sears Tower and the office, but I covered a fair bit of ground. Good day for a walk around town anyway.
Lounged around the room in the morning, watching some of the tour de France. Breakfast was back at the buffet restaurant, more like brunch. Had a roast ham, bacon, sausages, mushroom & spinach omelette, half a french toast to start. They were starting to bring out lunch so I had some of the roast beef, a small piece of steak and salad.
Didn’t feel like any of the pies for dessert, so asked the server at the yogurt counter for just blackberries and had another root beer float.
Overnight trip to Blue Chip hotel resort in Michigan City, Indiana. It’s a very large hotel that consists mainly of a casino and spa. We checked in mid-afternoon and wandered around to meet Carleen’s cousin inside the casino. Mainly slot machines with some table games. Not really tempted to play, I put in $5 each into 2 machines and lost very quickly. Ah well, it’s interesting to watch other people play anyway. Not too comfortable inside the casino as smoking is allowed, and towards the end of the evening when the place was crowded, the smoke was heavy.
The hotel also had a buffet, and the daily theme was crab legs and steak. The crab legs were good, I had 2 platefuls. The steak was so-so, small pieces grilled and piled into a serving dish made them get cooked quickly. There were other food too, like chicken, pizza, a roast and chinese, but I didn’t try them. Dessert was ice cream and lots of pies: apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin, pecan, chocolate, cheesecake. There were also warm puddings like apple cobbler and bread pudding. I had a little of a pumpkin pie (standard) and bread pudding (good) as well as a root beer float. Overall, a good meal, definitely ate more than the meal’s worth in crab legs.
Went upstairs to cousin’s room with a great view of the different fireworks going on around the hotel. Put my camera on the windowsill and set the shutter to 1 second. The trick was to press the shutter at the right time, I managed to get a couple of halfway decent pics.
i know i’m back in the US when I have pancake breakfast and then go outlet shopping. The pancakes were at one of my favourite place, Cracker Barrel. I could have had the big breakfasts with bacon, sausage, eggs, hash brown, biscuits and gravy. The blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup were a little lighter, I was able to finish the entire order.
We were going to go to Costco, but drove further south to an outlet mall. I checked off one of the items on my shopping list by getting a new pair of running shoes. I had nike frees in mind and they had several colours. The ones I wanted, in orange and blue, were $85. A few colours were 30% off so I opted for grey. Quite pleased with it.