Arizona vacation, or A Week Without Pants

On Saturday, 17 May 2014, Janice and I flew from Boston’s Logan Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor for a week in Arizona. She attended a Society for Technical Communication conference, and I tagged along for sightseeing.

New Southwest
Downtown Phoenix

After checking into the Hyatt Regency, we had a very good Southwestern dinner at Canyon Café. We then took in the Cirque de la Symphonie, a performance of classical music by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra accompanied by impressive acrobats.

On Sunday, May 18, Janice and I had breakfast at the Hyatt’s Terrace Café and then went to the Heard Museum, which had excellent exhibits of Native American art. We had lunch at the museum and dinner at Boka Pizza at Arizona Center.

From Monday through Wednesday, Janice attended convention sessions, and I logged into work from our hotel room. We’d typically start each day with a workout in the Hyatt’s exercise room, shower and dress, grab breakfast at Einstein Bros Bagels, and then meet again for lunch and dinner. The cost of real estate and meals was less than in comparable cities back east. Despite the ongoing drought, it was easy to see the appeal of living in the Southwest.

On Monday, we had decent pub grub at the Tilted Kilt, a theme eatery similar to Hooters, with scantily clad waitresses and at least one kilt-wearing busboy. That evening, we returned to the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix for a simple dinner at the Corner Bakery Café, which I’d compare to Panera.

With high temperatures in the low 100s Fahrenheit early that week — not that I minded the dry heat and hence the shorts — we didn’t want to walk too far. On Tuesday, I had a selection of cheeses at the Arrogant Butcher and had a more down-to-earth dinner at Steve’s Greenhouse Grill across the street from our hotel.

On Wednesday, Janice attended the STC’s closing session, so I went to Potbelly Sandwich Shop for lunch. We then joined some of her colleagues via the Metro light rail to the Phoenix Art Museum, which had exhibits of international art, Southwestern modern art, and Hollywood costumes.

As a pasta fan, I was pleased to have dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory near the museum. I hope that restaurant chain makes it into the Northeast. In my next blog post, I’ll cover more of our vacation in Arizona!

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Sightseeing around the Emerald City

As I’ve already mentioned, Janice and I did what tourists are expected to do in Seattle — visit the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. We did get rained on, but less than expected. There was no shortage of things to see in the city, and we got glimpses through the mist of the green and mountainous Northwest beyond.

Gene in Seattle
Looking out from Seattle

On Sunday, June 23, Janice and I went to historic Pioneer Square. We had a real character as our guide during the Underground Tour, and we also enjoyed browsing at the Magic Mouse toy store and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We also checked out the impressive modernist Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, which was only a block from our hotel.

We walked up to Kobe Terrace Park, but we didn’t fully explore the International District, where many Asian-Americans live. After the harbor cruise the next day, we wandered among the tourist traps of various piers before heading to the Seattle Aquarium. It might be smaller than the New England Aquarium, but it was informative about how humans have both lived off the sea and (belatedly) tried to protect it.

We also saw some fun public sculpture and goats grazing beneath an underpass. As I noted in my blog post about Seattle food, Pike Place Market was great, while Pacific Place and other urban shopping malls cater to the locals and business people. I’ve been asked whether I was interested in visiting the headquarters of Microsoft (or Wizards of the Coast), but that would have been too much like work.

I’m glad that Janice and budgeted most of Tuesday, June 25, to see the Museum of Flight, which is next to Boeing’s sprawling campus. It featured lots of exhibits on the entire history of aircraft, from the Wright brothers through the World Wars and the International Space Station.

We’ve been to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as well as the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, and this was as impressive as either of those. Among the aircraft we saw were the P-51 Mustang WWII fighter, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, and one of the jets designated as Air Force One through several presidential administrations.

Wednesday, June 26, was the quietest day of our vacation, since we expected heavy rain (which never came). We went to the Seattle Art Museum, which had small but strong collections of ancient through modern art. I didn’t take many photos in the museums because most prohibited the use of a flash. Janice and I also visited some art galleries and shops of First Nations or Native American art such as Northwest Tribal Art.

The next day, Janice and I visited Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. We admired the architecture and meticulous gardens. The Royal B.C. Museum was one of the highlights of our trip, including a recreation of a Western town in which you could enter rooms in each building, ranging from a saloon to a train station to a fancy 19th century hotel.

We also checked out the spectacular dioramas at Miniature World, which is similar to Roadside America in Pennsylvania. I got a new sun hat at the Tilley store, and we viewed nature art at the Robert Bateman Centre before heading back to the clipper to Seattle.

On Friday, June 28, we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park for a mostly clear view of the Olympic Mountains. We then walked to Seattle Center, spending our last afternoon in town in the same way we had spent our first one — near the iconic Space Needle.

The EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum focuses on popular culture. It was cool to see the artifacts from Jimi Hendrix, local band Nirvana, and the “Women Who Rock” exhibit. Of course, the exhibits on science-fiction icons, fantasy world-building, and classic horror movies were of particular interest.

On a related note, Golden Age Collectibles in Pike Place Market had a wide selection of comic books and games, and I’ve known Seattle for years as the setting for the Shadowrun cyberpunk/fantasy tabletop role-playing game.

At the Pacific Science Center, we saw the usual planetology and paleontology exhibits, as well as the Air Racers IMAX film, which was timely because of our visit to the Museum of Flight.

I did check e-mail periodically during the vacation, but it was nice to get away from the usual routine. I did follow the news, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the Voting Rights Act, which I disagreed with, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which I’m glad was struck down, as were people who gathered at the courthouse near our hotel.

In future trips to the Pacific Northwest, Janice and I hope to see more of the great outdoors, First Nations and Asian culture, and maybe other cities, such as Portland and Vancouver. I’d be happy to return to Seattle anytime!

Since then, I’ve been busy catching with work (especially after the latest reorg), gaming, and genre TV. I look forward to seeing friends during the coming weekends.

Favorite artists — Rockwell and Ross

On the way home from Thanksgiving, Janice and I stopped at the Norman Rockwell Museum in western Massachusetts. We’re both fans of Americana, so it was fitting to see Rockwell’s paintings around that holiday.

While classified as more of an illustrator than a fine artist, Rockwell showed an idealized version of the U.S. in the early 20th century that was nonetheless influenced by the old masters. He also celebrated the common man and woman, small-town life, and the idealism of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Comparison of painters Rockwell and Ross
Truth, justice, and the American way

I was also pleased to catch an exhibit about Alex Ross, one of my favorite comic book artists. Ross’ superheroes are more Reubenesque than Rockwell’s figures, but he also shows a timeless version of ourselves as we wish we could be.

Ross has combined his childhood love of Challenge of the Superfriends, an awareness of classical mythology, and an intimate look at Marvel and DC icons to help renew the medium’s optimism. His paintings also demonstrate that four-color, spandex-clad people can look impressive rather than just silly.

Like Rockwell, Ross uses models for photographic reference rather than painting directly from life or imagination. Both painters have been criticized for the practice, but I think their finished works show that imagination, accuracy, and expressiveness are all parts of their artistic process.

On a related note, here are the comics titles I’m currently reading monthly:

DC:

  • Batfamily: Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey (to loan to David I.S.)
  • DC Nation (for nephews), Green Arrow/Arrow (to loan), Green Lantern: the Animated Series (for nephews), Justice League, Wonder Woman, Young Justice (for nephews)

Marvel: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (for nephews), Captain America, Oz (Shanower/Young; trades only)

Other publishers:

  • Fantasy: Avatar: the Last Airbender/Legend of Korra, Conan the Barbarian/Queen Sonja/Red Sonja (to loan), Dresden Files, Pathfinder
  • Space opera (to loan): Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Star Wars: Agent of the Empire, Clone Wars (for nephews), new classic ongoing, Warlord of Mars/Deja Thoris (to loan)
  • Pulp: Rocketeer Adventures, Shadow: Year One/Masks, Sherlock Holmes (assorted titles), Steampunk/Gearhearts/Steamcraft, Steed & Mrs. Peel, Warehouse 13, Zorro Rides Again
  • Trade paperback collections only: Age of Bronze, Astro City (to loan), Indiana Jones Adventures, Liberty Meadows (to loan), Mouse Guard (for niece), Muppets, Peanuts, Powers (to loan), Star Wars Adventures (for nephews)

Fall getaway to Providence

Bed and breakfast in Providence
The Old Court

After raking leaves for the first time this season on Friday, 21 October 2011, Janice and I went to the Midtown Smokehouse & Grill, a new restaurant in Needham, Massachusetts. The boneless Buffalo chicken had an Asian sweetness, the pulled pork and marinated turkey tips were lean but still juicy, and the pecan pie was a nice finish. The service was prompt and friendly.

Janice and I were glad to find Southern-style cuisine closer to home. Blue Ribbon Barbeque in Newton, Mass., doesn’t really have eat-in space, and while we like the buffet at Firefly’s in Framingham, Mass., it’s a bit far. Another good barbecue joint is Bison County on Waltham’s Moody Street. We still miss the Black-Eyed Pea back in Falls Church, Virginia.

On Saturday, we drove to Providence, Rhode Island, which we’ve passed through a few times but never really explored before. Janice had won a night’s stay at the Old Court through a WGBH (PBS) auction. The bed and breakfast was in a quiet neighborhood between downtown Providence and College Hill.

We enjoyed exploring the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). For a small institution, it has a wide collection of art, from Mesopotamia and classical Greece and Rome to medieval and Renaissance Europe, a bit of Asia and Africa, colonial and Victorian America, and some modern art. I’d compare RISD favorably with the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum rather than to bigger museums such as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Janice and I had a late lunch at the Brickway on Wickenden, which had fun décor and an extensive breakfast-style menu. We found College Hill, with its bohemian student population and shops, hilly terrain, and laid-back atmosphere, to be closer to places we’ve visited in Vermont or San Francisco than typical New England reserve. We also admired the historic architecture.

We swung through Brown University‘s pleasant campus, which reminded Janice of her grad school alma mater Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It was apparently parents’ weekend, since we saw relatively few students. At this point, we can pass for parents rather than coeds! From there, we walked downtown (unfortunately, we missed Water Fire by a few weeks).

We saw the Occupy Wall Street offshoot at Providence City Hall and the Rhode Island State House. I’m sympathetic to the movement, which is trying to become as focused as the anti-tax Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, but the tent city of underemployed college students, aging hippies, and homeless people wasn’t too impressive.

In marked contrast, we found Providence Place full of people. Like the erstwhile Natick Collection, the upscale boutiques and packs of roving teenagers held little appeal for us, especially with Borders Books & Music gone. We did like much of the art and furnishings at a craft show at the convention center next door, however.

After stopping by our B&B, Janice and I headed back to College Hill, where we visited Brown’s book store and the independent Symposium Books. We checked out a few eateries on Thayer Street before deciding on Shanghai, a good, if noisy, Chinese restaurant.

We got a nondairy dessert (for my lactose intolerance) from “Like No Udder,” a food truck representative of a recent trend in urban dining. The chocolate soft serve with peanut-butter sauce was smooth and excellent. After walking back to the Old Court, our dogs were barking, and we decided to pass on a Jack-o-lantern event at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

We could have gone to the Italian restaurants on Federal Hill for dinner, but that would have required taking a bus or driving my beat-up Honda Civic on winding streets through unfamiliar neighborhoods (Janice baked lasagna last night, anyway). The next morning, we ate breakfast in the B&B’s common room before heading back to Massachusetts for grocery shopping, housecleaning, and putting up Halloween decorations. Even a short weekend away was a nice respite, if not quite as grand as last year’s vacation in England.

Coming soon: Game scheduling struggles, midseason genre TV, DC’s comics and videos, and reader requests!

Rochester, N.Y. visit, Part 2 — fun and games

David I.S. at the Strong Museum of Play
He does everything a spider can!

Please see my previous post for the first part of my belated visit to longtime friend David I.S. in Rochester, New York. We started Sunday, 10 July 2011, strongly with cheddar melts and turkey bacon. I met some cool hipsters at Park Avenue Comics and found a few more back issues in the disorganized but full stacks at Comics Etc. I’m impressed that a small metropolitan area with only 1 million residents can support so many comic shops.

Comics Etc. also had more tabletop gaming books than Millennium Games, but not as many comics as Comic Book Heaven, which reminds me fondly of Hole in the Wall Books in Falls Church, Va. In general, I collect DC’s superhero comics, and Dave tends to like independent and horror titles, but we’ve come to appreciate numerous genres and art styles. I’m glad to have stoked his and his friend Amit T.‘s interest in the medium.

We then went to the Strong National Museum of Play, which I’d compare favorably with Boston’s Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science. It was a walk down memory lane, with old board and video games, antique doll collections, and a superhero exhibit. Fortunately, the museum wasn’t too crowded on a late Sunday afternoon.

The famous Dinosaur Barbeque didn’t disappoint us for a late lunch/early dinner (“linner”). Dave and I ate chicken wings, pulled pork, mojito chicken, plus side dishes. While that may not have been the healthiest of meals, I had tried vegan jerky earlier in the day. It wasn’t bad, and partly relieved my guilt at eating intelligent, delicious animals.

After that, we walked to the Thomson Reuters and art deco Times Square buildings, as well as varied bridges. The Rochester Spillway and abandoned subway in the heart of the city are unique landmarks. We skirted the Genesee Valley Park and the University of Rochester campus before visiting the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Dave recently got tenure at the School of Interactive Games and Media in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. He took me to his office and the cool Game Design Development Lab. While I’ve only dabbled in computer and console games over the past 30 years, I respect the creativity and hard work that goes into them. As with wargames, collectible card games, and board games, I still prefer my weekly pen-and-paper role-playing games.

That night, we created comic book dividers and talked about music and health. The next morning, I drove back to Massachusetts. This time, the lack of air conditioning was more apparent when I sat in traffic as the temperature reached the 90s Fahrenheit. I stopped at my sister-in-law Shelly’s house in Utica, N.Y., on the way for lunch and to spend a little time with her husband Melvin and children Laura and David.

Since then, I’ve been busy with work and trying to catch up on recorded genre TV and phone calls from friends before my next trip!