One Word: Plastics (paid for all this)

Alex: We just hadn’t planned on a change of plan.

Jane: Well who plans on a change of plan? I mean, that would be sorta paranoid, don’t you think?

Laurel Canyon (2002)

I’m sure you suspect by now that Wee One isn’t so “wee” anymore. In fact, she turned 18 a few weeks ago.

In addition to that, she graduated from high school this spring, in a ceremony that costs the City and the students something in the neighborhood of $30,000, because that school can’t do anything without over-complicating it in the name of “tradition”.

Ripken Stadium Entrance Gate
Ripken Stadium. This wasn’t from the Sweet 16.

Wee One doesn’t get a lot of parties, but we compensate by making the ones she does get, a little bit bigger. For instance, for her Sweet Sixteen we rented a box suite at Ripken Stadium and a bunch of her friends joined her in a party at the Ironbirds Opening Day festivities (with fireworks, naturally). We rented a large van to transport kids who couldn’t get to the stadium, the kids got souvenir hats and junk, they all ate well, we managed to keep them more or less contained, the Ironbirds won, and we got fireworks to boot. Not too shabby.

So this time around for her graduation party (she wanted that rather than an 18th birthday party), we decided to expand things a little bit. After all, there would be more family members involved, plus adult-age friends and well-wishers. And Wee One wanted a DJ who could also do Karaoke. So we started looking into booking a space in a restaurant’s private room area.

Based on a little Internet research, our first stop was a place called Johnny Dee’s Lounge, just off of Loch Raven Blvd. The guy we spoke to was pretty great and very flexible with the menu (and reasonably priced besides), but we weren’t sure that the space itself was suitable for our event, so we passed. That’s not a knock on Johnny Dee or his Lounge. We’d certainly consider them for a different event.

Our next stop was at Hightopps Grille in Timonium. Wife spoke with them on the phone and outlined what we needed, and the person she spoke to, named Michelle, told us about this dining space with an outdoor patio adjacent that could also be used, weather permitting. Ooh, nice. So on the weekend, we went to visit the restaurant, sample the food and see what the waitstaff knew. As it happened, we got a very knowledgeable person who was able to answer most of our questions, with which we peppered her throughout our meal. We came away with a good feeling and I emailed Michelle to tell her we were interested in having the party during these hours on that day, and we’d just gotten the menu so could we lock that down at a future date? No problem, says Michelle, and I’ve booked a room for you. (This turned out to be a red flag we’d overlooked.)

So Wife and I perused the menu and put together something affordable but not cheap (it’s a fine line, sometimes), and left a little bit of wiggle room so that when we presented it to Wee One, she was able to have a little bit of say in what was served up.

About ten days out from the party: Wife got back in touch with Michelle to finalize the menu and the headcount. That’s when she learned that we weren’t getting the dining area with the patio; instead we’d been booked into a private room in a different part of the restaurant. What’s more, it was a space we hadn’t previously seen. For several reasons, this was a potential problem: we figured the space we thought we had was just about big enough for our party, plus the patio area (assuming the weather was good) would be a decent escape zone for anyone who thought they needed a break from the music. We had to go back in and look at the new space.

One week out from the party: the new space was definitely a no-go. There was no room for the DJ, it wouldn’t hold all of the people in our headcount, it was dominated by a bar (in a party for a teenager), and everyone had to pass through the main bar to get to the party. Even if it hadn’t been a kids’ party, it wouldn’t have held our headcount, with or without the DJ taking out a table’s worth of space, and even if you took the bar’s stools into account as “seating”. The manager on duty was sympathetic but really couldn’t do anything for us—and he did look for a few options—and Michelle wasn’t available. What about Michelle’s boss? Nope. Michelle IS the boss. She’s the owner of the restaurant. She’d ignored half the details that Wife had given her and was going to try shoehorning us into this corner. Go sit in at the card table over there, kids, while the Big People (read: better spenders) eat at the grownups table. We were screwed, plain and simple. Hightopps was out, and they’d created a huge problem for us.

We got back in the car and started to cruise York Road, looking at restaurants and wondering what alternatives we had. When you’re only a week out, you also have to worry about paying a premium for asking them to do this on such short notice.

I really don’t remember who thought of it, but one of us had an idea. And it was one of those ideas that, when we had it, we wondered why we hadn’t thought of it in the first place. What about The Barn? We’d been there plenty of times, they have a decent-size space, they have a permanent zone for entertainers, half the staff knows who we are…what kept this place off our list? It’s still a mystery.

For the uninitiated, The Barn is a restaurant/bar that’s in the area where Parkville and Carney kind of mix together, near the intersection of Harford and Joppa Roads. The place called “The Barn” is actually gone; it’s been remodeled and is the new home of The Charred Rib, which coincidentally used to be in Cockeysville. So now they’re The Charred Rib at The Barn, but most people still just say The Barn.

Image result for charred rib at the barn

I remember The Barn in its older incarnation: shortly after I moved to Baltimore, someone invited me to come up there for Karaoke Night. I was living at the exact opposite end of the city, and didn’t have a good handle on what was where, plus I didn’t really know anyone yet. But I went and, while the place had a bit of a used-up feel, I had a decent time. Oddly enough, I even remember the date: it was January 29, 2002. But I’ve digressed enough so I’m not going to tell you why I remember it. (Hee.) Anyway, the place got VERY cleaned up at some point and is really nice.

There are two levels to the building: the top level is the full-time bar and restaurant area, and the bottom level is used in the evenings, and is where bands come to play. The walls are absolutely covered with rock and roll posters and memorabilia. (If you ask where the restroom is, you’re told to “go back there and turn left at The Beatles.”) Perhaps, we surmised, they’d be willing to accommodate us in the lower level. Wife called them up and managed to get one of the big dogs on the phone. He needed to check on another thing that was happening that day, and promised to call us back. Ten minutes later, we got a return call: we could have the space if we wanted it. Ten minutes after that, we were in the restaurant itself meeting with him and putting a menu together. A few hours after that, we were getting the word out that the time and date hadn’t changed, but the venue had.

The Queen of Karaoke
Wee One, Karaoke Queen

And precisely one week later, we had a fantastic party, thanks to the folks at The Barn. We spent a comparable amount of money to what we would have spent at the other place, but we’re pretty sure we got more food for our money. Everyone had a great time, Wee One was happy, Wife was happy, the folks at Discover Card are happy. And The Charred Rib at The Barn has another positive review on Trip Advisor and Yelp.

Road Show

Homer Simpson: [after hitting a deer statue] D'oh!
Lisa Simpson: A deer!
Marge Simpson: A female deer!

The Simpsons, “Bart Gets an Elephant” (3/31/94)


New Paltz Logo - 3 Color This past weekend I headed up to New Paltz to see some of Daughter’s handiwork.

This time around, she was working on Noises Off, a three-act play which, each time, covers the first act of a play-within-the-play called “Nothing On”. Daughter’s main job was as the Propmaster, so during the show itself she didn’t really have an awful lot to do. Most of her work comes before the show, when she has to acquire or fabricate props, or in-between shows, when she has to repair them. (And don’t get her started on the prop sardines.) As a result, she was able to actually sit with me during the show and chit-chat between acts, so that was pretty fun. But I’m getting a little bit ahead of the story.

Wee One was sidelined from cheerleading because of an injury, and it was supposed to be the end of the season for her. But she managed to bounce back quickly and, about ten days ago, was given clearance and put back into the cheer routine. So Wife took Wee One to the last cheerleading meet of the season, and I headed to upstate New York, solo.

For most of the trip, I listened to an audiobook I’d downloaded (Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, if you’re interested, and the narration by Lenny Henry is awesome). Since I’m still without my iPod, I accomplished this by plugging the Aux plug into the headphone jack of my laptop and listened away. When I got off the highway, however, I decided that I wanted to concentrate a little more on what I was doing. So I shut off the audiobook and I tuned in to local radio.

Because I was alone, I got to do something that I’m pretty sure Wife hates: I hit the “scan” button and tuned in to all of the radio that Ulster County had to offer, ten seconds at a time. There was the usual mix of rock, country, classical, and so forth, and then I heard…

No. Way. Back that sucker up.

Sure enough, I found myself listening to Frank Sinatra singing about those J-I-N-G, L-E Bells. Christmas music! Well, I reasoned, it’s close enough that stations could start sprinkling in the holiday tunes. But then the song ended and another Christmas song started, this one by Harry Connick Jr. Yes indeed, 92.1 Lite-FM in Poughkeepsie had already gone All Christmas All The Time. I’ve ranted on about this in previous posts, and I expect to do so again, so I’ll let it go for now. Anyway, that plus the displays appearing in the stores the last few weeks impressed upon me that ‘tis the Season and all that. But that’s not all…

I hit a diner and got a grilled cheese sandwich, then checked into my hotel. I dumped off my stuff and it was off to A Night of Theater.

The show itself was fun, as I mentioned above and everyone truly did a fine job. There were a couple of pratfalls that had everyone worrying about the health of the actors involved, and a couple of incidents where Daughter worried actively about the health of the props that had just hit the floor unexpectedly. In the third act, a lamp had been knocked off a table and out of sight behind the furniture. When an actor finally picked it up and returned it to the table, it was still lit. Resilient props, those.

The next morning, we had some breakfast and I wanted to get some apples from a local orchard. I actually had several orders to fill from co-workers, so off we went to a farm about seven miles outside of town, in the town of Gardiner. While there, we picked out roughly two-and-a-half pecks of apples, which is meaningless to anyone who isn’t in Farm Country, so let me convert that for you: we bought a metric shitload of apples. No kidding, I spent about $45 just on apples, and only five bucks of that was for me. My co-workers were really hot for apples, but I confess a lot of that was my own doing, so when I gave them the apples I deliberately allowed myself to be under-reimbursed by about a third. No harm, no foul, everyone’s happy and Do A Good Deed Now And Then, you know?

Anyway, on the way back to New Paltz, we passed a road sign. It had clearly been around for awhile, but someone made a recent addition to it. Naturally I turned the car around and went back so that I could get a photograph of it:

Deer Crossing

Now I know for SURE that ‘tis the season.

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

One More Thing About My Trip to New Paltz

Connie: Dinner's on the table.
Carlo: I'm not hungry yet.
Connie: Your food is on the table. It's getting cold.
Carlo: I'll eat out later.
Connie: You just told me to make you dinner!

The Godfather (1972)


I totally forgot that this place existed, so when I saw the billboard while on the way home, I had to break out my phone and snap a photo. Is this one of the best names ever for a store, or what?

I get the feeling that you either get this one or you don't.  

Touring the New Paltz Area

Marcus Fiehls: There is a place where restless souls wander. A place that is not affected by our world or our dimensions. A place where confused souls are trapped; tortured. This place is all around you.

Rip Cage (2007)


…and that place is the mall.

SUNY NP Pond Parent and Family Weekend at the State University of New York (New Paltz Campus) is a different sort of animal from my previous visits. All the other times, the point was to tell me I was pretty and convince me that Daughter's mother and I should be sending thousands of dollars to them. This time around, well, they've already got the money AND the kid: we're just here to see that she's still alive and reasonably healthy. There were a few on-campus events scheduled, but it was really a formalized reason to visit our child and maybe see some of the local area.

As it happened, I came up alone: Wife and Wee One have a cheerleading competition to attend, and Ex-Wife is still recuperating from complications related to a medical procedure she had awhile back. So after work on Friday, I packed a bag and headed north. I got a later start than I wanted, but the traffic wasn't too awful. The biggest setback was missing an exit and mistakenly thinking I could just make it up at the next exit. I wound up on a road parallel to the one I sought, which took me through Princeton, including the school. Hey! Two campus visits in one trip!

So I lost about an hour doing that, because of traffic lights and such. Not a disaster.

I got to the campus around 9:30 AM on Saturday, and the atmosphere was very different from my previous visits. There were no students posted at all the entrances to direct us; there weren't balloons tied to every stationary object. In fact, the campus was kind of a ghost town. I thought I'd come on the wrong weekend. I parked the car and walked to Daughter's dormitory. I called Daughter and got her to come down and let me in. She still had a little bit of act to get together, and then we were off.

Student Union proposed Check-in was at the Student Union building, which is currently undergoing renovation and will soon look like the picture here (which I nicked from World Architecture News). There was an array of events going on, several of which would have taken place anyway, but there were also a few extras. Refreshments were also served, courtesy of a local orchard, which provided apples and cider and apple cider doughnuts, which were all very good. The President of the school did a little spiel, and so did a guy from the school's Development office ("please send us another small pile of money"), and that was about it for that event. The President was sponsoring a "coffee with the President" event a little later on, but since they'd already convinced us to send our kid to SUNY, I figured–based largely on all the information that's been pounded into Baltimore City principals–that it could wind up being an hour of talking about H1N1 precautions, and I'd had about enough of that. 

There were several different things on campus that we could check out, and if you're genuinely that interested in the list, go look at the previous post. We had tickets for the Comedy show, and made tentative plans for the walking tour of the town, but the big mission of the day was to get some warm clothes for Daughter. The leaves are just starting to turn all kinds of colors, but it's pretty chilly up there already. 

Science!  Ooh–here's something I learned by going to Parents' Weekend: the leaves don't turn yellow, or red, or whatever; they're already that color. It's just that, during the summer, they have so much chlorophyll that the green masks over the leaves' true color. When the fall comes, the chlorophyll production slows to a halt and the color comes through. It's explained in a little more detail here. Science!

Anyway. So our mission was to head into nearby Poughkeepsie and do some clothes shopping. So we get into the car and hit the road toward Poughkeepsie. We drive some ways.

Then we drive some more.

Then, some more.

And when we get to Newburgh, we realize that we may have missed a turn somewhere. Somewhere, say, about 16 miles ago. So we double back and find the road that leads over the Mid-Hudson Bridge, then shoot straight through town. Dammit, we missed another turn. Daughter calls her mother and asks where the turnoff is. Mom says it's on Route 9, head south. Crap. That turnoff was the first exit after the bridge. Once again, we get back on track. 

With the mall more or less within reach, I realize that I haven't eaten since my apple cider doughnut, and that was nearly three hours earlier. I spot a strip mall-ish kind of place, where we have a choice of a Red Robin, a Five Guys and a couple of others. For whatever reason, I opt for the Red Robin. No sooner do we enter the front door, however, than we hear an earsplitting buzz and strobe lights start going off. 

No, we weren't the one millionth customer. I look at the hostess, who is covering her ears, and I ask her, "Is that the fire alarm?" She doesn't know, but everyone in the restaurant is about to mow us down as they make their way towards us.

"Let's go, sweetie," I say to Daughter, "this place is much too on fire for us." We walk down to the Five Guys. 

After lunch we head to the Galleria Mall, which has a Target as one of its anchor stores. We shopped in stores both large and small throughout the mall, and I guess we spent about $150, maybe a little more, but we got some pretty good deals. Daughter didn't think so, but maybe that's because it was coming out of her bank account. (What? I put money into it that morning.) By the time we'd gotten back, what with getting lost and all, we'd missed the walking tour and had just enough time to get some dinner before the comedy show. 

Dinner was at a small Greek restaurant, located next to another Greek restaurant. You can't even find that in Highlandtown, but you find it in New Paltz. We ate at Yanni's, which had several positive reviews in various places on the Internets. And if it's on the Internets then it must be true, right? In this case it was. Food was good, service was friendly, and we didn't even mind when they asked us to switch to a smaller table so they could accommodate a larger party. 

The comedy show was a pile of fun, and it was preceded by three of the school's a capella singing groups. The first two, Male Call and Sexy Pitches, were single-sex groups. I'll leave it to you to figure out which was which. The third was a mixed-sex group called Absolute A capella. All three groups did a fine, fine job. The Second City touring company was a lot of fun too, with a mix of old material and new stuff as well.

When we got out, it was absolutely pouring outside. This after an entire day of bright-but-gray skies. It was less than a hundred yards to the car and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we got in. I dropped Daughter off at her dorm, and as I got back to the hotel room, the tire pressure indicator light popped on. Oddly, I opted NOT to check that out right away; it would wait till the morning. (It was just a low tire. I gave it some air and it cheered right up.)

Sunday morning and Daughter had a theater thing to attend to for the day, so we had time for breakfast only. As I dropped her off, this was the view from the parking lot we'd been in the night before: 

Mountain Mist
I'm guessing that if it hadn't rained the night before, that mist wouldn't be there. If we don't put up with the bad stuff, we wouldn't appreciate the good.