Saturday, December 26, 2009

Let the bells ring out for Christmas at the closing of the year

The couple in line behind me to buy coffee look nice and normal enough, then I noticed he (yes he) was wearing a jean mini skirt, tights, and high heeled boots. That's the sort of randomness that really is the mark of the past week. And it also makes me think I may be a bit too... well I was going to say normal but I don't think that's the right word, maybe mainstream... for my neighborhood. Then a man who I can identify as a pilot just walked in. How can I make such an inference you ask?? Was he wearing wings on his shirt??? Nope. In a uniform??? Well, or sorts I guess yes. Is he carrying a bunch of manuals that have "For Reference Only" or "Boeing" on the front?? Nada. He's decked out in the universal costume for off duty pilots... knit shirt with a collar, tucked into jeans, and the real indicator... bright white sneakers.

That's enough distraction from what I actually came to write about, this past week. I normally feel kind of blah and indifferent about Christmas for most the month of December. The shopping throngs and bombardment of Christmas sales doesn't help. Add to that, most my adult life has been spent working in an industry that does the heaviest business by far this time of year. That brings with it longer hours, less days off, and general chaos and confusion at the office. Given my current feelings about my current employment situation, I'm not terrible thrilled to be spending more time with over stressing managers.

When an opportunity came up to take an extra day off during the busiest, and most stressful, week of the year. I jumped on it. It would have been a bargain had it cost me 3 times the price. And armed with my extra day off, I whisked off to the south. I'm not a big fan of the drive, especially the Tennessee part. There always seems to be a interstate closure for an accident when I roll through. And not that I don;t enjoy spending extra time in the Nashville area, I would rather be at my destination so much more.

I rolled into Atlanta about 7:30 PM Monday night. I left Louisville in a flurry of activity after only a couple hours of sleep. And it was this week really when i started feeling a bit Christmas-y. If only because gifts were being dropped off by various delivery companies or I got to do my version of wrapping, which involves a lot of irregular folds and copious amounts of tape. I rolled into Grace's apartment and was we began working on what was to be my Christmas present. I thought it was an odd request to bring with my pin collection, gathered from around the world. Mostly of the Hard Rock Variety, I've quite quite the collection. Most I picked up but a few friends have been very kind to make a point to bring me pins back. For most of the 90's these pins resided on my Southwind member jacket, only to relegated to a short lived and ill conceived display at my last apartment before being banished to a Crown Royal bag. Now, thanx to Grace's skill at making things, I have a more fitting and fabulous display case for them. She rocks! And if that wasn't enough, it was accompanied by a scarf for the the hash Louisville winters.

After shopping around for some additional items to complete TanJoe's gift basket and Jonathan's gift from Grace, we spent the evening drinking beer, arranging pins, and waiting for the last Holby to arrive. Well, she's not the LAST Holby per see, just the last one I had yet to meet. The rest of the night was spent conversing and being sociable with Christine and Scott, lasting until about 4 AM. I also made my first Gin Martini. I specialize in vodka, but I'm branching out. Thinking of a career change maybe :-). It seemed well received, so maybe there's a future for me.

The next day, grace and I began scouring the city for a specific coffee mug from Starbuck's. I think we hit 8 or 9 on Wednesday, and they all seemed to look at us as if we were asking for the Holy Grail itself. We knew the mug existed, as we had seen it before, not in a vision but at the Starbuck's in concourse A at the airport. We eventually gave up the quest (it was 9 pm after all) and met Christine and Scott for drinks with some acquaintances of theirs.

That led to one of the most random and interesting nights in recent memory. At least in this country. The setting is a well appointed and friendly feeling pub on the square of Decatur. We walked in to a packed house and found Christine and Scott, who then found their friend at a table in a back corner upstairs. The Brick Store pub has taken a new approach to being a pub. Well, it's more of an old approach. No TV's or neon. No lite beers, no domestic big label beers. You're not going to find Budweiser or Coors light here. What they do have is a wide variety of foreign (including a huge selection of Belgians) and microbrew beers. The feeling in the place was definitely old Europe, especially back in our corner. Not at all like you were in an imitation pub some one tried to mimic. They pulled it off.

More interesting than the wide variety of tasty beverages and charming decor were the cast of characters squeezed around the table. I'm not sure what occupation they came from. I know some one was in marketing research. there was a Magazine editor (Josh), and author/actress/waitress/chief happiness officer (Mary Jane), and Jim and John and Jim and other people I just can;t remember. I should really learn to be better with names. Of course, there was Grace, Christine, Scott, and I. Roughly 8 or 9 of us around a table made to comfortably seat four.

And this is how we celebrated Festivus. There was a pole, feats of strength, and many airing of grievances. But the conversation was just great. It didn't center around airplanes or work or holiday frustrations. Before the end of the night, through conversations with the group, I was feeling much happier about life in general. Work issues have been weighing on my mind a lot lately, but I'm feeling much better about it now. If i lose my job, then I'll find another. Maybe it's time for a new beginning anyway. Change can be scary, but it can be invigorating at the same time. And meeting and talking to such positive people over fantastic beers really brought it into focus that I can be down about this crap.

Mary Jane had recently published a book about the very establishment we were occupying. And after the conversations with her and the others, I felt it was a book I would want to read. Luckily, they had copies for sale. And being at the table with such a celebrity as the author, I had to purchase one and get it autographed. One day I think she'll be famous and get tired of people asking for her to sign the book while she's trying to enjoy a cold beer, so I felt I should get mine personalized while I could. I just started reading last night at work, and I'm enjoying the story thus far.

Grace and I ended the night at Josh's house with Mary Jane, discussing family and kids and travel over homemade Limoncello. (FYI, before anyone makes a crack, "discussing with Mary Jane" is not a euphemism for doing something a random drug test would reveal). After a variety of topics and a few drinks of limoncello (it's like drinking a lemonhead candy... yum), we headed home.. again at 4 AM.

The next day we continued the quest for the Holy Grail. And resolved that the only place the mug would be found was at the airport. The followed a trying day of attempting to locate a shipping center and get the item off to make the journey to California by Christmas. Grace decided a nap was in order, and I agreed completely. That night was going to interesting too.

Grace took off to her family lands in New-Nan. I headed to Taco Mac. I was informed last week that I would have plans Wednesday night. My ladies had spoken and I was obliged to attend. And I was to finally meet the person known as Genevieve. Until this point I had only heard tales of this person. Prior occasions when a meeting was to occur, something happened to prevent it. I was beginning to think she was shunning me or, far more likely, she was an imaginary friend of the harem. Turns out she does exist. I was told by Charity, who was running late, to look for her at Taco Mac. Fantastic... I'm searching for some one I've never met with the description of "she's blonde to the shoulders with blue eyes about my height". Turns out, that attractive blonde's are sort of few and far between in New-Nan. It also turned out I got there first and she walked in with Jersey so I didn't have to search her out... and risk being pummeled by a redneck for making a move on his woman should I have chosen the wrong blonde. A serious risk in New-Nan, and I have a history of choosing the wrong blonde.

And shortly, Jersey, Genevieve (who, due to my problem with spelling words with more than one syllable, will be referred to from now on as Jenna or OG.. she claims to be the Original G to Grace's more recent G), and I were joined by Tanya, Charity, and Grace. And that's how I ended up being the only man at a table with New-Nan's 5 most gorgeous women. We adjourned this meeting of the harem and reconvened back at the TanJoe manor, where the drinks are already paid for. The alcohol flowed like... alcohol. And Tanya produced some snacks of chocolaty goodness of which I ate the equivalent of my body weight. And at about 4 AM, it was time to sleep again. Another great night of friends and fun.

(ok, as a side note, there's now a pilot in his uniform sans wings and shoulder boards in here... I may have to leave if another shows up. This neighborhood is going downhill fast.)

Thursday found me waking in a hangover haze, probably sweating Jack Daniels and Jameson. After the mornings first cup of coffee, and a surprise homecoming by Joe, I gathered my self up and took off for some Christmas Eve shopping. I'm proud that this year no gifts were purchased on credit. This could be a first since 1995. After a brief shopping expedition in the New-Nan/PTC area, it was up to Grace's to prepare the gift bags and try to feel more human. We took a quick expedition to Target at Atlantic Station and discovered that they carried the same Starbuck's mug we have trekked about the city looking for... only 5 minutes from G's house. I think would have been better off not knowing that.

Afterward, I was able to meet NoTAC (short for No Talent Ass Clown, or more commonly known as Ryan) and his lady for dinner, then crossed the city to join Charity, TanJoe, and some of the Pollard family for an evening of Glubwien and Wii. It was then that the realization that I had to come back to Louisville soon began to set in. The next morning, very early, I awoke to discover that once again Santa did not leave me a bar of gold or deed to a tropical island in my stocking. Maybe I've been to naughty again. I whisked off to mom's house for Christmas breakfast. I could practically smell the bacon cooking miles away. I was struck by an eerie feeling driving through Atlanta when I realized I was the only person moving on Spring Street. it was like one of those movies where everyone in the world has disappeared but some hapless person who was lucky enough to be sleeping in an iron box or something. Just when I began to wonder if Grace's apartment was indeed built of iron, I saw another car driving. That was close, I was almost the last person on earth.

Christmas morning was the typical flurry of presents, kids, breakfast foods, and lateness. The little ones continue to get more stuff then they could possibly ever play with in a year. I think the best reaction was to the toothbrushes... it was a sort of half-hearted "yay! it's a toothbrush." In all fairness to the kids, I would feel the same way. The challenge of the morning came in the form of an electrical outage. And with perfect timing, this happened before the biscuits were made and the eggs were cooked. At least we had 3 pounds of bacon (yes, there was really three pounds of bacon) and a plate of sausage to occupy us until we could get the generator rigged up to finish the cooking. And then the presents were distributed. I scored a bottle of Grey Goose form Darci... which is kind of repayment for the years of me contributing her delinquency. Mom also tired force a cake and pie on me. I love my mother very much, but I always am confused by the "You look so great, keep up the weight loss... here's a cake".

All too soon I had to leave. The journey back to Louisville loomed ahead. Luckily traffic was light, and there were plenty of places to provide me with sugar-free Red Bull for the caffeine requirements of the trip.

There is more to say about the week, but my hands are tired and I'm fairly sure everyone has stopped reading about 3 pages back. I enjoyed the time I spent with all my friends, and most of the unexpected surprises in meeting some wildly interesting people, finding a new watering hole, discovering how impressive my pin collection looks when displayed properly, and generally enjoying the company of family. I can't thank Grace enough for letting me once again interrupt her life and sleep on her couch. One day she's gonna take my key away I'm sure. I wish I could have spent more time with everyone, and that's the real downside to Christmas. So much busyness and rushing around that we don't usually get to spend time just being around fun people. And often your thrust into the company of annoying people who push in front of you in line to checkout. I enjoyed giving out some gifts, and the look when i get something they really like. Usually by complete luck.

Now, I'm looking ahead to New Years. I'm hoping that everyone will be around (though I know some won't but that's OK, I'll have to harass Jersey more in 2010). Coming soon will be the inevitable reflection blog, so look forward to that. I'll try and keep it shorter :-). Until next time, I hope everyone continues to enjoy their holiday revelry and has safe journey's.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The weather outside is frightful... or just insanely cold.

Once again, I find myself in Rao's Coffee in downtown Amherst, MA. I will forever abbreviate this state because I cannot spell it. Too bad, it's really very scenic here. This is my third visit to Adri's home town. Fall is amazingly colorful, winter is amazingly cold. It's still scenic though, the snow making it all very wintery. As snow tends to do.

This was a quickly laid on trip tog et away from Louisville for a couple days. Otherwise, it'd end up with me dwelling on some things. I like the distraction of Amherst, and the vibe of the town. I could maybe even immigrate here... I say maybe because I'm not sure I react well to the cold. Unfortunately, Adri has been working these few days and I've only had limited time to spend with her. But lunch, and dinners have been very nice. SHe's a great host.

Yesterday, I spent the time in the morning around Amherst meandering. Well, most of it was spent insde the coffee house as meandering outside was almost painful. There's a nice little local bookstore on the square that, while 1/4 the size of a standard Barnes & Nobles, has an incredible selection of books I've never seen in the local B&N. It is a college town and I suppose people here are well read??

After fetching Adri for lunch yesterday, I ventured down to Holyoke and searched for a local brewery I was told about. I must have circled the same block 5 times looking for the place. The GPS/google maps on the phone got me almost exactly not there. I mean I was withing a mile so I suppose that helped narrow it down. Eventually I pulled up beside a large abandon-looking brick factory and asked a delivery driver if he knew where I could find Paper City Brewery. He responded "You're looking at it". It's the kind of place you would never find unless you knew where it was. No signs or adds. Nothing but a grey door with no number or markings. This should be interesting. The owner (Jay) decided to install the brewery on the 5th floor of the building... and up the stairs I went. I walked into a room that had a very old early 1900's feel about it. Not much organization. Boxes and cases of beer stacked all over, except the one wall that was roped off to guard a collection of vintage motorcycles.

I was greeted by a older lady with a cheerful "Are you here to work?" To which I responded "No, I'm here to drink and take a tour if it's available." Well, turns out that even though the website said tours were available Monday through Friday during the day, the omitted that Wednesday was not exactly considered to be between Monday and Friday. I did learn that Wednesday nights are bottling night, and should you feel inclined to come help them with the bottling process you will be paid in a case of beer and fed pizza. If I lived here, guess what I'd be doing on most Wednesdays. It's very brilliant ploy by the owner, especially with the high volume of broke college students in the area. Imagine being able to get a free case of good microbrewery beer as a poor college student. Beats the hell out of drinking Natty Light.

At any rate, the staff (all three of them) were busy getting ready for the night's bottling operation. So no real tour was given, but they did offer to let me sample whatever they had on tap. And since they were busy, I was to just go behind the bar there and help myself. So I did. The lady who initially greeted was waited on something to be delivered, so she kept me company. In the times where she had to actually go do something, I occupied myself with the collection of bikes. For future reference, I'm not a fan of watermelon beer, but they had a wonderful blueberry beer and an excellent winter dark.

The owner was very much into vintage Harley-Davidson's and Indian motocycles (that's the correct spelling). I've been very much into getting back into bikes lately. I'm even thinking that should this airline thing go south, going to motorcycle mechanics school. At the very least I could save myself $70 by doing my own oil changes.

After more than a few samples and a conversation with the owner, I headed back to Amherst to wait for Adri to get off work. She had planned dinner and the Amherst family was coming over. I haven't seen many of them since the infamous birthday party with the missing Grey Goose. I love that hanging at Adri's is like a meeting of the United Nations. Represented were the nations of South Africa, Colombia, Pakistan, and Russia. And unusually I was not the only native born American, but the other American was currently living in SwitzerFrance... I'll explain later.

The other thing about Adri's friends is that when we're hanging out I feel like I'm the dumbest person in the room. I like to think I'm a fairly intelligent person, but when the company are either workin on Ph.D's in Psychology (that's how it's spelled Katya, I looked it up), or engineers, or working at CERN (which is on the border of France and Switzerland... hence SwitzerFrance) creating black holes that are going to destroy the earth. Well, maybe the black hole part is not true, but how often to meet a physicist that's working on discovering the smallest particles of the universe. I think it's cool. And she was cute too. I also learned that Stephen Hawking is an asshole.

That pretty much brings us up to now, where I sit at Rao's again typing this. I feel so studious here aongst the other people typing and studying away. It almost makes me want to go back to college. Except I have no desire to actually do the school work.

I fly back to Louisville tonight, and back again to being in he real world. It's only a three day work week before I head home for Christmas. And i still have much shopping to do! I would like to thank Adri for hosting me. And Mo, Katya, Susya, Razzi, and Elane (not sure that was her name, but I'll call her that for now) for the enjoyable evening. Later.